His sedatives were low that day. They had been lowering them every day for the past month. The games where coming and they wanted him to be paying attention rather than too drugged to know which way was up.
But with lower sedatives came more guards and a greater "safe distance." It made his nerves twitchy when they talked about him like he wasn't there. But they had good reason; he had almost beat that last Avox to death.
If he was being honest with himself he didn't mind the distance, he hated when they were near him. He wanted no one near him since the arena. The Monster from 2. The Beast that beat them to death. Brutal Cato. The victor that kept killing. He rather they left him alone than have to beat another one to prove his point.
"Ladies first." The woman on screen said in the shrill accent of the capitol. This was the last reaping for the day. He was ready for it to be over, to be done watching the faces of the already dead be pulled across the screen.
"Primrose Everdeen." A small blond girl from the back was pulled forward and Cato sighed.
"Dead." It was the only word he had said aloud all day. It was unnerving the silent Avox that he said it after every tribute was selected. Brutus has left to do other things hour ago when it became clear Cato wasn't going to beat anyone to death today.
"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!" Came a commanding cry. This girl looking nothing like the other and yet did. Cato cocked his head to the side and studied the first volunteer from district twelve. He watched her march to the stage and when they finally gave a close up her face he said the first different thing in over twenty-four hours.
Sitting there in the silent apartment surrounded by people who couldn't speak the brutal victor from district two felt something for the first time in over a year.
I saw this idea done and wanted to do the things my brain gave me. -E
Chapter 2: Parade
"Don't speak." They stylist reminded him. They always said that but he never did anyway. They were lucky to get three words out of him in a day.
"Don't glare at the president. They thought you were glaring last time." She reminded him again. Why was she even here? He could very well dress himself at this point, in fact he did. Another facet of his 'condition' he refused to be touched. They could lie out the clothes or place them near him but he was not to be touched.
It killed his stylist he knew that. She ever so desperately wanted to put something to on cover his scars. He had too many they thought. Brutus and all his capitol watch dogs always clicked their tongues at 'the state of his beautiful skin.' He liked them they made it feel real. The edges kept him sane when the sedatives kicked in and the fog took his mind. He even liked the one that cut down his jaw to the center of his chin, despite everything that was said of that particular scar.
"Also remember what we talked about when you smile." She handed him his tie and he put it on while nodding. "No baring your teeth like an animal. You have to actually smile." He simply nodded again as they led him out for the parade.
This year he was not in a silly costume with false hope, this year he stood next to the President for his speech. There would be the victor from the year before as well to round out the look but Cato didn't care. He wanted to rip the elaborate suite off the moment it touched his skin. The fabric was too soft. Still he could tell the stylist had tried to make it rougher for his preference. Rough fabric was real, felt real.
"Do you need a shot?" Brutus asked before they could get to the balcony. Cato wished he could grimace at the implication. He had better sense than to beat the president to death, no matter what he might truly want.
"I don't feel like killing anyone tonight." Cato lied. "My knuckles have just closed up again." That was the truth. He had not been given capitol ointments to heal his hands in some time, they were trying to punish him by making him heal naturally but he liked it better that way.
"Good. Now go look dashing." Brutus moved like he was going to shove Cato out the door but pulled his hands back in time and waved them instead. Cato took his place next to the president. It was a revolting experience every time he was forced in the man's presence. He smelled sweet and looked weak a combination that set Cato's teeth on edge but the fact was that old man could crush Cato in a blink. It was sickening.
He was saved from having to deal with his nausea by the first tributes coming down the street. They were bright pink this year and looked like stuffed birds. Your feathers will fall soon. He thought. Two looked like golden warriors and their heads were crowned in wings. Exposed throats. Three was a glittery mess. Sharp edges to slice. Four looked so much like water. You will be lucky to ever drink again. Five sparkled. Easy to see at night. Six was rather silly to be honest. I could snap those neck with the headdress alone. Seven look like an explosion of white. You will drown in red. Eight was an explosion of color. Armor is the only worth while textile. Nine confused him. They still will never eat again. Ten was painful. No, you are the livestock. Eleven poor and tacky. Others will harvest your lives. Twelve. Twelve.
Twelve was on fire. Useful.
The cameras seemed to agree because they hugged the twelve pair. The boy seemed nervous but also ready to play the game. Soft. But the girl, the girl who wasn't dead she knew. It was in her eyes and in her face. She was not misguided like those in front or weak like those in the middle. She knew the real game here, the ones that weren't being broadcast and she was ready to fight back.
"Katniss!" The crowd shouted at the girl on fire. No that couldn't be her name it didn't fit. Not a weed. A survivor. A winner. A killer.
Chapter 3: Training
He had surprised himself by being this sober on the first day of training. Hell he was more than surprised he was down right speechless. The little shits were too sharp for their own good. The boy, Peeta had some how fond nearly every bottle in the penthouse and either hidden or destroyed them. He had spent three hours last night checking all the hiding places before giving up at he had been out foxed by a sixteen year old, and maybe he could do better if he wasn't so hung over.
Then there was the girl. Katniss would just stare at him with those knowing greys and he felt all of his life's mistakes laid at her feet. She was the real reason he had given up the search for the bottle. Because she would look disappointed in him.
"Fancy seeing you here Abernathy." Said a deep voice from behind him. Haymitch turned from watching the live feed of the training to see Brutus from District 2. It was true Haymitch did not normally come to the observation room with the other mentors. In fact he had never come before. He hated the vultures these people turn into pitting children against each other.
The center was where they did everything, but the mentor floor was the worst. Haymitch had always preferred the next floor where sponsors where wooed because they had an open bar there. Here on the mentor floor they only had videos and charts.
"Where is your dog?" Haymitch asked looking around for the blond victor that Brutus practically kept on a leash. It was common knowledge among the mentors that Cato had snapped in the games and had come out not quite human. He was higher functioning but reacted like an animal. District Two was mortified and kept him sedated or watched at all times.
"Getting a tour with Enobaria." Brutus said with a sick smile before sliding into a chair opposite from Haymitch. They were now the only ones watching this particular broad cast of the tributes.
"Now why would he need a tour? Isn't he escorted everywhere?" Haymitch was pretty sure they enjoyed keeping Cato in the dark about where he was so that he couldn't do any real damage.
"He is going to mentor next year." Brutus seemed pleased. "Asked for it himself."
"And in exchange for being a good boy he gets to stop being shot like a rabid animal." Haymitch laughed. The poor kid was catching on to the game what was really afoot.
"Don't be crass. It was for public safety." Brutus looked ruffled and it only made Haymitch laugh harder.
"Yes because drugging him was so much easier than admitting that you broke him." Haymitch figured that was a perfect time to leave; he did so love having the last word. He decided it was time for that drink and made his way to the sponsor floor.
A few people mingled around at the edges looking out the floor to ceiling windows but most of them paid Haymitch no attention. The Avox who worked the bar didn't even need to be told to hold the ice anymore. He had just settled in to one of the better Scotches when some one sat down next to him.
"I drink alone." Haymitch warned before turning to look at his company and for the second time in twenty-four hours was shocked. Sitting next to him was none other than the recently released Cato.
"You drink no matter what." Cato replied without even looking at Haymitch. The blond boy was looking at his hands rather intently and kept rubbing at his knuckles. It was rather unnerving, almost like he was thinking about punching someone. A common occurrence for the boy.
"So off the loopy liquid and right to the sauce?" Haymitch wondered.
"No." Cato clipped. His face was stony but Haymitch saw a flash of disgust. The boy was beautiful no doubt; he had been praised for it before his games. He still was really the scars did nothing to diminish the piercing blue eyes and sculpted face. But he seemed hollow and wild all at once.
"What then?" Haymitch knew he should shut up; he was poking a bear with a stick. Cato reached into the pocket of his black pants and pulled out a slip of paper and set it in front of Haymitch.
Printed in neat lines were several capital account numbers and at the top a standard sponsorship identification code. Haymitch had seen these before, they were watch sponsors have mentor's before the games began. Later it was less organized but in the early stages sponsorship was very impersonal. This was not what he had been expecting.
"For her." Cato tilted his head to indicate the screen that currently was showing a close up of Katniss climbing a rope.
"Mentors aren't allowed to sponsor." Haymitch said but he wanted to say so much more. The hell was going on?
"Not a mentor." Cato responded and went back to the rubbing routine.
"Don't you want to sponsor one of the kids from two?" Haymitch wished he could shut up, he had an early sponsor for Katniss and he was about to spoil it.
"Dead already." Cato said with a slight headshake.
"So you want to sponsor Katniss? What about Peeta too?" He was pushing his luck he knew that but he couldn't help himself.
"She can do it. He can't." Cato stated.
"So what, you can call a winner now?" Haymitch wanted to be offended, hell he felt offended. Peeta was great kid and had a better chance than most of those kids.
"You haven't been this sober in years. I am not the only one who sees it." Cato finally looked at Haymitch and he was a little frightened by what he saw there.
"You aren't as broken as they think." Haymitch said unable to stop himself. He was caught by the piercing intelligence behind those eyes.
"No, I'm not." Cato smirked. It was a half smirk with only one side of his face moving. It was perhaps the scariest thing Haymitch had ever seen.
Chapter 4: Spark
She couldn't sleep. It was too loud and two quiet all at once in the Capitol. There was the hum from the walls that sounded like moaning and the honking of vehicles outside. It was too much. She was in the elevator before she even formed the thought.
There were too many voices in her head. Haymitch's slurred voice telling her that she needed to be likable, that she should smile more. Stop glaring. Peeta's kind tone telling her stories at lunch, images running through her mind with his voice floating over them. Effie's high pitch stabbing at her eardrums. It was all too much. The air was suffocating her.
The moment she hit the outside air of the roof it was the sweetest relief she had felt it two days. Maybe three. Had it been three days since she was home? Had it really been that long since she held Prim? Katniss felt the edge on her strength crumbling now that she was alone and that maybe for once she wasn't watched. No crying. No crying. She told herself, she could cry when it was over, she could cry when she was home.
The shock of blond hair in the garden startled her more than she thought possible. She had missed him as she walked to the edge but when she turned to console herself she saw him sitting by the wind chimes with his back to her.
"I thought you were asleep Peeta." Katniss said walking towards the garden. But as she got closer she realized that it was the wrong shade of blond to be Peeta. It was lighter and much too short. At her approach the boy turned to look at her and Katniss realized whom she was speaking to. The victor from the 73rd Hunger Games, Cato sat in front of her.
It was shocking to see him not on a television screen. In person he was still rather huge but it was different. He wasn't towering and scary here. He was dress in what looked like pajamas for all intense and purposes. A lose pair of grey shorts that came to his knees and a black shirt that seemed like it might be a size too small. This close it was easy to see the network of scars that decorated his arms and hand and even most of his legs.
He had gotten pretty beat up in the arena. The only weapons provided last year had been tiny knives that could barely make deep cuts. It had been a mostly hand-to-hand year. Cato had stopped using the knives at the end of the first week and simply beat the other tributes to death or snapped their necks.
"Oh I'm sorry." Katniss said realizing she had been studying him for longer than was perfectly polite or necessary. Cato shrugged those broad shoulders and then patted the space on the bench next to him. "No it's fine. I don't want to bother you." I don't want to be near a monster. She turned to leave when he spoke.
"You won't feel any better inside. And you won't sleep." Cato said casually but something in his voice set Katniss on edge.
"And how would you know?" She snapped.
"I got maybe three hours of sleep the week before my games." Cato admitted. "These help." He held up something small and metal. "Catch." Katniss reached out before she even thought about, years of hunting too ingrained.
Katniss looked at the object in her hand and was rather confused. It was a series of metal links that seemed to be stuck together and a few of them were slightly lose.
"What is this?" She looked at him to see he had pulled another one out of his pocket.
"They are called brain teasers." Cato said twirling the one in his hand. "They keep your mind busy and your hands. Makes it harder to break you." Katniss was surprised to find she sat down next to Cato and fiddling with the brainteaser herself.
"Aren't you supposed to hate me?" Katniss said feeling odd next to this boy. He was the monster victor. She had trembled watching him kill those kids last year. She had stayed near the back of the crowd during his victory tour, wanting to as far from this animal as possible. But here she was having a conversation with some one she was sure she hated.
"Because you are district twelve scum?" He said with a rise of a blond eyebrow.
"Yes." Katniss hear more venom in her voice than she had expected.
Cato laughed, a deep rumbling laugh that vibrated the bench beneath them.
"You think that's funny? So what my district is all a big joke to you?" Katniss barked at him.
"They really picked right when they set you on fire." He said still smiling. It was striking. His face wasn't perfect when he smiled but was actually rather lopsided.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Katniss was not enjoying this conversation.
"It means I like your spark." Cato was fiddling with his teaser. He pulled a link out and set it down next to him. "Too bad you are just as brainwashed as the rest." He gave a little tap to his temple with his right hand.
"I'm not the brainwashed one!" Katniss shouted. How dare he! He was the monster. She was here to save Prim. He was the killer, he and all the careers like him.
"Oh that's right. I'm the one that was brainwashed." Cato shrugged. "My mistake."
"You're crazy." She snapped and got up. She didn't need this, she needed sleep and less to think about. Not have some freak from another district talking nonsense. Just as she got to the elevator she heard him call out.
"Katniss." He shouted. That stopped her. Not twelve like the current careers. Not girl on fire like the capitol. Not sweetheart like Haymitch. But her real name. Katniss. "When you are in there remember it's just hunting." Katniss was floored to hear that, words so similar to what Gale had said. How could he know that?
"How?" She asked wanting to know how he could possibly know about her hunting. Katniss turned to look at Cao and he raised his right hand and wiggled the fingers.
"You have the hands of a hunter." She looked down at her hands trying to figure out what he saw. "Archery has really distinctive calluses." Heat crept up her face in embarrassment and she beat it out of there faster than she thought possible. Only later when she was back in her room did she realize she still had the brainteaser. Reluctantly she gave it a shot and half way through working it out Katniss feel asleep. It was the first real sleep she got since the reaping.
She was good. He had to hand it to her. She had a temper and a backbone. Coming to the roof had been a gamble. If he really was going to sponsor Katniss Everdeen she needed to get a good look at her. See the fire burning in her eyes for himself. Make sure she wasn't one of the sheep.
He had been rather surprised really when she came to the roof in the middle of the night. Most capitol citizens where still up, in fact many of the mentors were awake as well talking up sponsors. But tributes kept to the sleep schedules of their homes. Working schedules.
But she was a hunter and a hunter now in the position of prey was restless. He could see it in the way she walked. The way she stumbled out of the elevator and inhaled sharply spoke volumes about her mental state. She was holding it together with sheer stubbornness and willpower.
The real test had been talking to him. To see if there was fear in her eyes or if she looked at him like a treat she could take. He needed a look at her mind and that required eye contact.
She was startled first. Not good. Easily startled hunters were dead hunters. But then she took a good look at him. Her eyes moved and he saw her catalogue every one of his scars. Better. Then she sneered, just for a second when she put together all the things he had done. There you are. In those brief seconds he got a good look at the brain behind the beauty and frankly he liked what he saw.
He could see the fire in there. But beneath that fire and strength was a caring person. Some one who would throw themselves on the sword literally to save another. A hero. Someone better than all of us. If only she wasn't so deep in the capitol's clutches to see what was really happening. Give it time. The games will open her eyes.
He just really hoped that when she got out she was more intact that he was. Then again he was attempting to break almost every capitol rule there was, so maybe he was less scrambled than even he believed.
Chapter 5: Interviews
"You have been doing excellent since this year's games began." Brutus smiled at Cato as they readied to head out for the interviews.
"I have been feeling much more myself now that the action is about to start." Cato agreed with some of his old charisma. He had pulled the old mask back out because the better he behaved the more freedom he had. The more freedom he had the less they would notice he was sponsoring a tribute from another district.
It felt odd to smile again, to be charming and arrogant. It felt a bit like trying to put on clothes that were too small for him. He had outgrown this mask after the games. It hurt to put it back on. To pretend to enjoy Brutus and Enobaria was torture but to keep it up all the time was wearing him thin.
"Always knew you had it in you. Never thought that you were feral like the doctors said." Brutus looked like a puffed up bird at that statement. How wrong you are.
"Of course not. I just wasn't ready for the fighting to be over." Cato smirked. "You have to admit my victory was rather easy."
"One week is an extremely short game. I can see why you would be chomping at the bit to keep going." Brutus gave him a jarring slap on the back that a week ago would have earned the man a cracked jaw. Today Cato just clenched his fists and bore the burden.
"It's not too late to ask for a seat change on the platform." Enobaria sounded annoyed. "You don't have to sit next to that filth."
"Oh but the drunk will be so much fun." Cato laughed. "He fell off the stage at the reaping, can you imagine what he will manage tonight?" And no one will be watching us.
"You might end up having the most fun out of all of us tonight." Lyme giggled, a sound a woman of her temperament should never make. It was actually rather comically the way Brutus' head whipped around to look at her in mild horror.
"Entirely likely." Cato was not sure but he thought he might finally be free of his mentor's attention.
The smarmy ass had the gall to look amazing in his grey suit. He wasn't even fiddling with his knuckles this time, but sitting there looking perfect and smiling along with the rest of the audience and mentors. Haymitch wanted to slap him, something that was not advisable.
"Remind me again why I am completely sober for this?" Haymitch mumbled into his hands as Caesar began his over done intro. Of course Monster Mash didn't have the decency not to hear that.
"Because you have fighters this year." Cato said smoothly under his breath as the girl from District One pranced on stage. It was slightly revolting at how heavy the blond girl laid it on, it was a little disturbing the sheer amount of cleavage visible.
"I might be sick." Haymitch said after the third really good lean over.
"If you throw up on me I will make you uglier than you already are." Cato said through a smile as the rest of the audience laughed at something.
"I'm sorry charming, I must be hallucinating because I think you just made a joke." Haymitch felt like smiling along with the rest of the rabble just then.
"Don't make me punch your teeth in." Cato gave him a momentary glare.
"Boundary acknowledged." Haymitch gulped. It was hard to get a read on the kid these days. Before the incident at the bar Haymitch had just brushed him off as a raving lunatic, but now he was all over the place. After a moment Cato spoke up again.
"Have prices been put on her virginity yet?" Cato indicated to blond tribute that was now finishing her interview.
"I walked by a room that looked like they were doing some early speculation. Her score is high enough and she is seventeen." Haymitch was sickened by the practice but it happened with the more endowed and willing tributes. "Why haven't you been given to the cats yet? You cut such a striking figure and are now eighteen?"
"Oh they gave it a shot." Cato said casually but his posture was suddenly very stiff. "Tripled my dosage and gave me something to help me perform."
"And?" Haymitch couldn't help but ask. He wasn't really one of the Capitol insiders and was left out of most of these transactions.
"I broke her arm in three places when she touched me." Cato flashed Haymitch a smile that looked much more like a wolf baring its teeth. There was a pleased gleam in the boy's eyes that didn't sit well with Haymitch either.
"I think I need a drink." Haymitch admitted out loud.
"No you don't. Now may attention." Cato chastised and turned back to the stage.
They made it all the way to District Five before either of them said anything.
"Huh." Cato made the noise almost to himself. "I missed her."
"Who?" Haymitch looked at the red haired girl on stage.
"She is top five at least." Cato didn't elaborate on that statement. But the closer they got to Katniss the more Haymitch was twitching in his seat.
"If you don't stop I will use my left over drugs on you." Cato snapped after the fifth time Haymitch bumped his foot off Cato's knee.
"Quiet charming, daddy is trying not to freak out." Haymitch began patting himself down to see if maybe he had put a last minute flask on his person. This is going to be a disaster. He thought as Katniss stood and walked over to greet Caesar.
To Haymitch's extreme and never ending surprise Katniss did not make a complete mess of the thing. She managed to come off as mysterious and strong. She even managed to pull off the dress with complete ease, and then to round out his astonishment she giggled.
"Now all we need is for Peeta to pull off the master plan and we are golden." Haymitch breathed in relief.
"Plan?" Cato quirked a brow.
"Shh." Haymitch waved as Peeta made his way to center stage. The boy did better than Haymitch could have hoped for, the audience loved him and he seemed to genuinely having fun. Then came the all-important part.
"I don't think it's going to work out. Winning...won't help in my case." Peeta flushed and Haymitch wanted to kiss the boy. This was too perfect.
"Oh you didn't." Cato breathed and his tone almost made Haymitch look away but he was too focused on the stage.
"Why ever not?"
"Because...because...she came here with me." Peeta got out looking very much a boy in love. The camera's swung to catch Katniss flushing a red that matched her dress and looking at the ground.
"Well at least he has the decency to mean it." Cato shook his head as the crowd erupted in frantic noise.
"It was his idea." Haymitch admitted to the blond boy sitting next to him.
"Of course it was." He was still shaking his head when the crowd died down. Haymitch wanted to ask what he meant by that but very soon the interviews were over and they had to get up to leave. As Haymitch stood Cato turned to him one last time.
"If I were you I would get to your tributes a quickly as humanly possible. You might not have two of them in the morning if she gets a good minute with him." And on that foreboding note the boy had the gall to get up and walk away, without even turning back.
"I think I might hate him." Haymitch said to himself as he made a run for the door.
Chapter 6: Cornucopia
"That coffee table was crystal and platinum!" Effie screeched at Haymitch.
"I really dong think he cares Trinket." Haymitch said not turning to look at the woman. He was busy trying not to punch the screen himself. I say don't run toward the cornucopia, and she runs toward it. If she lives I am going to strangle her myself.
"That vase is hand panted don't you dare!" Effie screamed but it had no real effect on Cato. The boy still threw the vase.
"Maybe we should buy less expensive furniture." Haymitch offered as Cato moved to the next breakable object. "I am beginning to see why they gave him sleepy drugs all the time."
"I simply don't understand why he is behaving like a wild animal." Effie sounded put out but accepting of the current conditions.
"Charming is a wee bit pissed at our girl almost got herself killed on the first day." Haymitch took a swig from his flask.
"Don't be crass." Effie huffed and then marched out of the room. It wasn't like much was happening right now anyway. The careers had pretty much cleaned up everyone at the cornucopia and the survivors were either running or hiding.
"Why are you here breaking our things rather than breaking things in your apartment?" Haymitch shouted to the rampaging maniac.
"Because they would consider this slipping." Cato crunched a plate in his hands before finally sitting back down.
"This isn't slippling?" Haymitch had to fight the urge not to spit out the whiskey at that.
"No." Cato snapped. Haymitch shrugged and went back to flipping between the live streams that showed everything and the Caesar channel. Katniss was meandering around in the woods looking worse for wear and Peeta appeared to be thinking something over in a bush.
They were surprised when they didn't have to wait much longer because Peeta seemed to make up his mind.
"Why is Lover Boy making a bee line for the cornucopia?" Cato said sounding shocked. Which was hysterical because he never sounded shocked but also awful because he was right.
"I take it back. I strangle him first, then Katniss." Haymitch growled at the screen.
Lover boy was either suicidal or had the best plan ever. I was not sure which I preferred. On the one hand suicidal Lover Boy meant less people in the arena. On the other hand he had a decent chance of taking out some of the competition.
But in the end they are all just children. Weak scared pitiful children. Being used to teach all of Panem a lesson and make the lesson stick.
He hated watching the careers the most. He had just learned that word from Haymitch today. It was what everyone else called kids from his district. It was a fitting word; a career was something you picked for life. These kids were born to die.
"Before you kill me. I can tell you where to find her." Peeta said to the circle of careers.
"You know where she is?" Clove asked him looking pleased.
"Saw her run in that direction." Peeta pointed but his direction was slightly off by about a yard. Set off in a straight line from there and they will be very far from her indeed.
"If you are lying to us I am going to crush your skull in with my bare hands." Said Maze this year's Two male tribute.
"What is it with you guys? Do they feed you something that makes you large and stupid?" Haymitch asked Cato. "Do they give you extra biscuits if you crush things rather than stabbing them." Cato didn't even turn to look at Haymitch, just reached out and pushed him off the end of sofa. There was a clatter as he took a vase of flowers and his flask with him.
"Understood." Peeta nodded curtly on the screen.
"Now might be a good time for you to go get some more sponsors." Cato informed the pile of man on the floor.
"You might have a point there." Haymitch picked himself up and headed for the door. Cato sat watching a dual life feed of Peeta and Katniss move through the woods.
Chapter 7: Fire
"And where have you been all day?" Lyme asked as Cato stormed back into the District Two apartment. Crap. They were all supposed to be still out, celebrating the victories and chatting up sponsors. Now the question was how much he should lie. Half a lie was better than a complete lie.
"In the penthouse." Cato tried for smooth as he removed the tie he been wearing all day. He had been forced into dress clothes in case Brutus needed him on the sponsor floor.
"District Tweleve, why the hell would you be there?" She sounded offended.
"Deserts." Cato headed over to the table that was laid with fruit.
"Deserts?" Lyme sounded genuinely confused.
"We are not served deserts here, but we are at events and with sponsors." Cato explained rolling an orange between his hands.
"Oh I see." Lyme smiled now.
"I didn't want to be surprised in case Brutus needed me later in the games." Cato slipped off his shoes and sighed in relief as his bare feet touched the marble. He hated shoes these days.
"Very true. Its so wonderful to see you dedicated to being a mentor for next year." Lyme patted him on the back and left for her room. Cato breathed a sigh the moment she was out of the room. Who knew he could lie.
The next day.
"I don't under stand why we aren't sending her water." Effie was making a big ruckus. It was rather awful because Cato was attempting to look like he was just watching the screen near by and not standing in an actual group with her and Haymitch.
"Because she is close enough. She can do it. I am not wasting sponsor money on water the second day." Haymitch snapped at the woman. Effie sadly didn't get the hint.
"Cato dear explain to him that this is simply rude. He is her mentor he is supposed to send her gifts." Effie gave him a look that was perhaps supposed to be imploring but looked lopsided to Cato.
"If she dies from this then she deserves it." Cato explained flatly. "Wasting resources is not in our best interest." Effie did not take that well and half cried half fumed away from them.
"Did you just say our?" Haymitch asked him. Yes, but I will not be repeating myself. So instead Cato raised an eyebrow at the man who quickly held up his hands in defeat.
Cato didn't want to admit it but Haymitch and Effie were growing on him. Hell he liked them loads more than he could ever like Brutus, Enobaria or Lyme. He couldn't talk to his mentor's they didn't see the truth of it all, they were too deep in capitol rhetoric to be of any use to him. But Haymitch wasn't the man clearly was not a part of this for honor and glory. His kids were not walking into that hellhole already soulless monster.
To round out the emotion Cato found that he liked Katniss. Haymitch had told Cato how she had gotten that eleven, a score that beat even his own ten. If he had been the kind of person who laughed he would have laughed then. The stylist really did have her right when he set her on fire.
The noise was perhaps the worst thing he had ever heard. He really should have stuck with just the three drinks, and now everything was buzzing and something was screaming.
"They are throwing fireballs at her!" Effie's shrill voice penetrated the fog in his brain. He did not bother with pants or clothes really and shot out of the bathroom in his underwear.
On the screen an inferno burned and near the center of the blaze Katniss was running. His heart stopped. No. No you can't have her.
"Are they burning the whole arena?" He asked Effie but she was a nervous wreck. Haymitch scrambled to find the remote and get it so he could see multiple live feeds. The fire was indeed going far but not everywhere. They are herding them. His gut bottomed out when he saw that the careers were being moved towards her. Time for her to pay for that stunt with the apple.
He should feel colder. This would not be the first time. He had lost all the others. Why should this girl be different than every girl before her? Because she is.
Watching Katniss make it to the water what perhaps the worst moments of his life. Or at least the worst moments he could remember. Then of course the careers saw her. Maze gave a whoop of excitement, Glimmer shouted. Clove seemed beyond pleased and even Marvel ran faster. Peeta looked the way Haymitch felt, heartbroken.
But then she climbed. Haymitch wanted to kiss her when they couldn't get to her. Hell he wanted to kiss Peeta when he suggested waiting. Haymitch needed that time. He had to tap the sponsors; Katniss needed something for that leg.
Haymitch was finally getting dressed to go figure out who would pay for the medicine when there was a loud crash and then his door flew open. A very out of breath Cato stood in his doorway looking a little bit like he hadn't put real clothes on either.
"They tried to set her on fire!" He shouted. Cato had a startling voice when he was loud and Haymitch dropped the shoe he had been putting on. For a moment he had no idea who to address Cato's statement.
"Yes they did." New rule, eat before dealing with monster mash.
"What are you going to do about it?" Cato asked.
"Go talk the sponsors into paying for some burn crème." Haymitch felt his brain turing to mush the longer this conversation went on.
"Use my accounts." The boy snapped.
"I can't that would be too much. It would empty out two just to buy the crème and that's before I pay for it to be sent in." Haymitch wasn't sure why he wanted to talk the boy out of this but he did. "Why would you even want to do that?" He had to know.
"The same reason you are mostly sober." Cato snapped. "Because I like her fire damn it." And then almost as if he knew that was a bombshell too large for Haymitch to get his mind around the boy stormed out.
"Use however much you want. Just get her out of that tree!" Cato shouted as he slammed the door and apparently broke another vase on his way out.
Haymitch had two thoughts. One they really needed to stop replacing the vases, Effie was going to have a fit. Two Peeta really hadn't been kidding when he said Katniss had an effect on people.
Chapter 8: Waiting
When the tiny parachute dropped down into her tree Katniss had to wiggle to reach it. Her leg was making it hard for her to do a proper climb at the moment and she had grown stiff with sleep.
Opening the container to find Haymitch's neat handwriting and crème might have been the best moment in the games so far. The instant it touched her skin she felt relief from the burns and settled back to sleep.
It wasn't until the morning when she went to check the burns and saw that they were all healed she notices the note had a back.
"A good hunter knows the forest. –C" Cinna had sent her some encouragement, and maybe some advice. She was mulling the thought over when she saw the little girl in the tree, and after that she was too busy to realize that Cinna really didn't know anything about hunting.
It was easy to see why the Capitol got so wrapped up in the Games. It was a constant battle to watch or not watch. Every moment away from the screen was a moment of worry and panic. Every moment in front of the screen was a moment of horror and fear.
"It's too bad about that One girl." Enobaria smirked. "Who taught them to sleep while on a hunt?"
"She was never going to make it to the final five. Maze and Clove are the real contenders this year." Brutus passed Cato the eggs with a smile.
"And the gutter rat is now too injured to be a threat and the fire girl won't last long if she stays out like that." Lyme commented over her orange juice.
"Perhaps now is a good time to send them some gifts?" Enobaria asked the other two.
"I can see what we have available and get it out some time today." Brutus twisted his wrist to look at his watch. "I have a few meetings this morning I can get some more sponsors then."
"What are you plans Cato?" Lyme asked as he picked at his meal.
"I was going to spend some time on the mentor floor and maybe make some round on the sponsor floor. Get a feel of who is where." Cato was telling the truth. He didn't really want to be in the apartment all day, he would break things.
The floor was busy when Cato arrived. It was a blessing and a curse because it meant he could speak to Haymitch without being watched closely but it also meant that people would bump into him.
He still hated being touched. It was his body, he should be allowed to choose what was done with it, at least he should now. Before it had never been his choice. He was their puppet, their sacrifice. It wasn't until after he beaten that little girl's head in with thoughts of home running through his mind did he realize the truth. Once he did he promised himself it would change. He didn't belong to them.
"What did I miss?" Cato asked sliding into a chair that backed up to Haymitch's. They had agreed to sit back to back and watch separate screens for the rest of the games. Haymitch's idea, something about keeping up public image.
"Nap time." Haymitch sighed loudly. "A handful of tributes are not high on tracker juice right now but not many. Oh and Maze and Clove found some one to make bombs for them. Go team." Cato didn't say anything to that, it was clear Haymitch was not looking for one. "Also one of my tributes might be bleeding to death."
"It's not that bad." Cato had watched the replay this morning. The cut on Lover Boy was deep but had missed the important parts of his thigh. "Easily fixed."
"For a career maybe. But my boy doesn't have the sponsors to get him something for that. Katniss sure but not Peeta." You could hear the glum in his voice.
"Well go get some." Cato wasn't in the mood for this, he was too twitchy.
"How do you purpose I do that?"
"I seem to remember one of us won their games using the system against others, and it wasn't me." Cato snapped as a man walked too close to his legs for comfort. He was done with this. He got up and left. Maybe the sponsor floor would have a table attached to the chairs so he could put furniture between himself and others.
It only got worse. Nothing for three whole days. Not a single death, not a single chase. Most of the major players were mumbling around and it was anything but exciting. It made Cato wish for the sedatives again.
His room was a disaster. Nothing was left intact. He hadn't raged or stomped but eventually anything he had in his hands was in pieces. Cato was not a waiter. He had spent most of his games hunting the others down and quickly. He had barely slept. He was barely sleeping now. Not that he ever slept well.
The worst was keeping up with his mentors. They were bored as well and that didn't mean anything good for anyone.
"I don't understand what is taking so long. I mean soon they are going to run out of people to interview to fill the time." Brutus scoffed. "They have had that drunk Abernathy on twice already to talk about the gutter rats."
"This is a good thing. We wouldn't want Maze or Clove to make a stupid mistake because they aren't fully aware." Lyme had turned on a shopping channel at this point. Cato had had enough of it already and stomped out of the apartment.
"Where are you going?" Enobaria asked as he reached the elevator.
"To train!" Cato screamed back. Technically he wasn't supposed to use the training floor anymore, he had already won the games. But some time last year they had realized he was less aggressive to passing strangers if he could still run through the old drills. It's all I ever did before the games and the only thing I have left now.
Sword first. Six combatants, close to middle distance. He tapped his watch and set it for two minutes. Do it in one. This was the easy part now. He didn't have to think or feel just move. He could push out the images of the dead here. Breathe in, thrust. Breathe out, block. Breathe in, swing. The dummies were down by exactly fifty nine seconds. He was getting better at this.
Spear next. Five combatants, middle to long distance. Three minutes
Knives. Ten combatants, all distances. Two minutes.
Run. Two hours. One hour sprint.
Weights. Increase total by five pounds for upper body and ten for lower.
Agility Course, four times.
Sleep. Two hours.
He spared a glace at the screens that were now in the training center. Katniss was having a fit in her sleep. The careers weren't doing much better. Katniss was actually doing much better that the others because the small girl was helping her. Lover Boy wasn't doing so hot either but the cameo routine seemed to be working for now. The others were just trying to find food.
Repeat. Sword. Spear. Knives. Run. Weights. Agility. Sleep.
He couldn't do another cycle after that. It just wouldn't work. Two in a row was pushing it already. So he went back to the apartment. Two days wasted on nothing. Two days of watching lambs sleep before their slaughter. Two days of pulling at his hair every time he thought about it.
"I am not fond of this waiting either." Brutus said on the morning of the third day. "I hope things start up again. Sponsors don't care about a bunch of wounded animals. We need warriors." He groaned pulling at his expensive suit. "You know I might take Cato's lead and go down and polish some of the rust off."
Today was worse. The careers woke up and started moving around. They were too wobbly to jump through the field of landmines and forced the boy from 3 to do it for them.
Finally that afternoon when Katniss sat up she looked alert and aware.
"Thank you Katniss." Cato said to himself in his silent bedroom. The words rang hollow in the desolate room, but they were the only words he had said all day.
Chapter 9: Rue
"Our pearl really is rather clever." Effie laughed watching Katniss head towards the cornucopia.
"It's a diamond Effie. A diamond." Haymitch muttered sipping at his juice. Things were happening again and that meant he had to stay off the sauce.
"What's a diamond?" Effie asked happily.
"Nothing. Just watch." Haymitch wasn't sure if he was happy that the ball was rolling again. It had been nice, relaxing almost to not be so worried about Katniss every moment of every day, for two days. Then again he had been slowly more and more concerned about Peeta. His attempts with the sponsors and the game makers were taking too long. He needed help now and not later. But they were not the kind of people to be rushed.
Come on sweetheart. Cripple the bastards. Haymitch found himself egging her on as she stood at the edge of the field with the arrows ready. Thank goodness for that redhead showing her the truth of the matter otherwise she might very well have gotten herself blown up. It was painful, waiting for the fires to burn. He knew Katniss was waiting but it was agony to watch this.
Then she let the first arrow fly. It struck but not enough. The second widen the gap. And the third struck home. It was a glorious moment. Spectacular to behold and there was not a single sound on the mentor floor. You could hear a pin drop. That's my girl.
A laugh rang out. In that silent moment some one laughed. All heads turned to see who it was and Haymitch about dropped his juice when he realized it was Cato. He was sitting on a pure white sofa wearing a forest green suit, with his head thrown back laughing.
"What on earth has gotten into that boy?" Effie asked quietly behind a napkin, ever the lady.
"I think he finds it funny." Haymitch said a bit bewildered himself.
"Cato! She just ruined all of their supplies stop laughing!" Enobaria shouted angrily. Haymitch about laughed as well when he saw that tears were streaming down Cato's face.
After a few more minutes of this Brutus got upset and half dragged half pushed Cato to the elevator.
"You know Effie I think I should go see who wants to sponsor our pearl." Haymitch stood and headed for the elevators as well.
"Excellent!" Effie even clapped in excitement.
The Avoxes didn't even bat an eye when showed up at the penthouse. He was sure at least one of them saw actually rather fond of him. Or at least the red haired girl seemed to always bring him food before he even knew he was hungry. She was in the dinning room setting up the plate ware when he enter and saw that she too was smiling.
It was just too good. Katniss, the spitfie, had destroyed all of the supplies. They were on her level now. Or at least getting luxuries was going to cost Brutus, Enobaria and Lyme more effort than they were willing to give.
Cato was not even that worried when Katniss appeared to be suffering some shell shock. She was well hidden and the others were too distracted to notice a bush so far from their current location. She hadn't been the one to catch his eye for nothing. She was a good hunter.
Just when he finally felt so much better, when the relief dropped his shoulders and he could breathe did he see it. Rue. Katniss's ally and perhaps friend in the games was caught in a net. No.
The little girl struggled trying to keep quiet in hopes that she could get out before she was found. It brought to mind another little girl, the one that haunted him the most. She had not been his first kill or his last but she hurt him the most. Her death had been the crack in the walls. The first time he doubted.
He saw Katniss running now desperate for the signal. Marvel was on the move too, and closer from the layout. It would be close.
Don't scream. Cato prayed. Just don't scream Rue. But she did. She was a child and children scream when scared. So she called for her savior, for Katniss.
It was over so quickly. Even with the screen split in three to watch each tribute it was hard to figure out what happened exactly when. The spear first,then the arrow. But other than that it was a shakey mess.
Cato turned; this wasn't for him to watch. No one should see this. He was standing to leave the room when he heard it. The first note wobbled but each phrase became clearer. The mockingjays held their songs to listen to Katniss Everdeen sing her friend goodbye.
He must have looked strange because when Haymitch walked in his eyes widened. They looked startled and then surprised and finally Cato saw sympathy in the man's face.
"She was a child." Cato said not knowing what else to say.
"Yes." Haymitch's face slumped and he looked years older suddenly.
They stood there silently. Cato with his back to the screen, Haymitch watching him, as far away Katniss cried and decorate the little girl in flowers.
When the phone rang they both jumped a little. Haymitch dashed over to answer it as Cato stood there feeling lost.
"Yes?" Haymitch answered. "I understand." He nodded. "Yes, of course I approve. Send it." And then he hung up.
"What was that?" Cato asked.
"Eleven. They want to send Katniss some bread." He sounded confused.
"Districts never send gifts to other tributes." It was a fact.
"And victors don't sponsor tributes not from their district." He had a point. Cato suddenly felt out of place. He shouldn't be here. This was not his place. He didn't know these people. They were different, they cared. It was dangerous. So he left.
Or he tired to but as he reached for the elevator he thought about his own little girl and knew he wanted to do something.
"The arrow," He called back to Haymitch. "The one she shot through Marvel, can you get it for me?"
"Sure, but why do you want it?" Haymitch had a funny look on his face one Cato couldn't read. That bothered him.
"It's not for me." He got in the elevator then. He needed to go back to where things made sense. Where it was about survival and strength.
Chapter 10: Cave
"Cinna and Portia are here!" Effie exclaimed in joy. The apartment was a party today. It was rather aggravating. Haymitch was strutting around as pleased as peach, Effie's words. The gamemakers had announced the change in rules early this morning, a change in rule completely of Haymitch's design.
Of course it meant that Clove and Maze had a chance to win as well. Brutus and the others were in a flurry trying to figure out how to work that angle because it was clear that the rule change was meant for Peeta and Katniss. But they were not the kind to let this opportunity pass them by.
In truth the entire Capitol was freaking out. Which left Cato in the unique position of not being needed in the slightest. He hadn't even been asked for interview in several days. No one really cared what he thought right now, it was all about Peeta and Katniss. The star-crossed lovers. The best story every told in the games.
"And this is Cato, the victor from last year." Effie was apparently making introduction to the several new people in the room. "Cato is sponsoring Katniss."
"Effie." Cato said sternly.
"Oh yes I know I know. People aren't supposed to know. But this is Cinna and Portia they are their stylists. Cinna loves Katniss more than you do." Effie filtered away leaving Cato glaring at her back.
"You are a rather unexpected addition to this party." Cinna said smoothly gliding down next to Cato.
"Tell me about it." Cato gave his head a rub, yanking at his hair as he went. It was constantly in spikes these days. This was not his element. The whole bunch of them was not his kind of people and it was starting to rattle his brain a little.
On screen Katniss and Peeta were having some quality time in the cave. Cato wasn't so sure about this whole set up. Relaying on others was a weakness, something to exploit. Already she was weak. At least that is what he told himself.
But she was the same really. After everything her eyes still had that clarity, that fire that spark that they had first held when he had seen her a month ago when she volunteered.
"You aren't pleased with the new developments?" Cinna looked at Cato with a very unsettling expression.
"It's reckless." It was the truth. Trusting anyone for this long this late in the games was beyond reckless.
"You don't trust Peeta?" There was a smile on the man's face that made Cato want to punch him. What is with these people? Why do they smile all smile like they know something?
"No. Lover boy wouldn't hurt her to save his life." Cato found it rather confusing. "Literally." It made no sense to him. Why sacrifice yourself for some one you barely knew?
"You don't trust Katniss?" Cinna appeared to be onto something, or at least he thought he was from the look on his face.
"Why would I need to trust her?" Cato did not get this man. Haymitch he could get, he was a victor they had the same kinds memories. But this man wasn't like them and Cato didn't know how to read people that weren't a threat.
"How do you feel about them?" Cinna motioned towards the screen where currently Katniss was half curled around a sleeping Peeta. It was odd to see two people that trusting. Cato understood how sex worked and the idea that most couples actually slept in the same bed but the concept seemed wrong and foreign. It made his knuckles itch to see that much touching.
"What answer are you looking for?" Cato asked back, this guy was fishing for something.
"I want you tell me what you see." Cinna leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees now matching Cato's position. "When you watch them what do you see?"
"All of it?" Cato wanted to make sure he wanted the truth of it before he opened his mouth.
"Yes. I want to know your perception." Cinna nodded.
"He stares for too long. His temperature is rising and she is missing it because she is worried about other things. He is holding himself too tightly except the leg, its infected and they don't know it yet. She is fidgeting too much. Her fingers twitch like they are holding the bow even when they aren't. Her personal space fluctuates every other time she spares him a glace, which is every fifth stop her eyes make. She is focused on him and not hunting or the games. Clove isn't going to wait much longer before she goes hunting. The cave isn't well hidden. He is getting worse. She is slipping." Cato tapped his chin.
"That all?" Cinna frowned. Cato shrugged. "Now tell me what you see not from the point of a victor but from the point of a sponsor." Cinna leaned into the sofa and stretched out his legs on the coffee table. The movement bothered Cato for a reason he couldn't place.
"They mean it." What was there to say? He had been watching everything in the cave unfold and once he started really paying attention it was hard to miss the truth.
"What makes you say that?" Cinna was smiling now. It made Cato want to punch him again.
"He means it, has since the interview. Right facial muscles and body language." Cato wasn't sure about before the interview but he had seen it himself so he was pretty sure the boy did love Katniss. He could see why some one might.
"And Katniss?" Cinna asked accepting a drink from a passing Avox.
"Eye movement suggests strong inclination towards the same. Easy of proximity and unconscious twitch where she touches his clothing backs assumption. She isn't affectionate but he might return his love." It was odd to watch. Two different people appeared to be acting out of a single body from what Cato could tell. Katniss was still the hunter and still the person he had chosen to back. But she was some one different when she looked at Peeta.
It reminded him of something he had seen years ago. It wasn't a sharp memory because it wasn't something he was supposed to pay attention back then. His life was for the games. He hadn't meant to see that boy confessing to the girl. But he hadn't looked away either. The girl hadn't said yes or no, just that she needed to think about it. Katniss had that same expression. But the girl he remembered had said yes later and Cato thought Katniss might as well.
"Do you mind if I ask you one final question?" Cinna pulled Cato from his thoughts. He nodded.
"Why don't you let anyone touch you?" Cato realized suddenly that this man was dangerous, not deadly but dangerous. Yet he wanted to tell him the truth, because something in his eyes reminded Cato of himself.
"They got my life. They can't have my body."
"You might be just what we need." Cinna smiled and then stood and left Cato wondering what had just happened.
She would not have it. Things were going so lovely and now they were making a mess. It was just bad manners.
"Cinna make them stop, they are causing such a racquet." Surely he would help, he was so polite and made such wonderful clothes.
"What is the matter Effie?" He really was so sweet, and he gave her such wonderful lipsticks when he came to visit. She had all the best shades these days.
"Haymitch is being rude to Cato. He can't be rude to him, it's bad manners and he is one of our best sponsors." Effie was very close to leaving the apartment and going to find sponsor herself. She could talk about Katniss and Peeta as well. But she didn't have it on her schedule and she hated to ruin her schedule. It was such a big day.
"I am not being rude!" Haymitch shouted. Effie did not like it when he raised his voice for no reason, or touched her hair. "I am expressing an opinion." Effie followed Cinna into the living room. This whole mess had started when Claudius had announced the feast. It was going to be fabulous because they were going to give medicine for Peeta, how nice of them to do something like that.
"You used crass language." Effie said sternly. She was not going to have it on her watch.
"What exactly happened?" Asked Cinna. Haymitch had the gall to scoff while Cato, the gentleman, sat at the table and simply raise an eyebrow. She really needed to be transferred to a better district where they had manners. This was unacceptable.
"He said not to send the sleep potion." Haymitch was drinking, always a problem. Cinna thankfully was very good with keeping Haymitch underwraps.
"Why did he say that?"
"Because he thinks she shouldn't go to the feast." Haymitch waved his arms wildly. "She is going no matter what, I am just helping."
"Stop that, you are spilling." Effie wished some one would pay attention to the carpet more.
"It's still a bad plan." Cato said only after he had finished chewing. Maybe if Katniss and Peeta won Effie could ask Cato to put in a good word for her with District 2. It would be lovely to work with civilized people. "Clove and Maze are going to be waiting. They are being sent gifts now as well."
"Of course they are!" Haymitch had the decency to sit down and stop wobbling about. "Which is exactly why I sent Katniss the knock out drugs. She needs to be focused."
"Effie, love, I have this under control." Cinna smiled and handed her a new pin for her hair. He was the only person here that appreciated her. "Why don't you go get ready for tonight's festivities. I think the plum dress would be perfect on stage tonight. I have seen the floor and it's going to be a mirror. You look dazzling from every angle in that dress."
"It's so nice to have some one that understands manners and fashion." Effie smiled; sure that Cinna would handle Haymitch and went to get dressed.
The stew had been a nice touch as far as he was concerned. He even laughed a little when they had thrown away the utensils and used their hands. He would hear about it later from Effie of course but it was worth it. Bonding time over dinner was going smoothly, he might even get them to kiss again.
After Katniss had made it out of the feast alive he had been swamped with sponsors. Clove had been the only rival female tribute. The girl from five was surviving without the help of the capitol apparently. Those not completely loyal to two had quickly come to him wanting to be a part of the only pair that could win.
He should be ecstatic. He had the most sponsors he had ever had. His kids were doing well. The other mentors and even some of the other victors were giving him pats on the back. He was slotted to have another interview any moment now because Katniss and Peeta were talking about him.
But he couldn't feel better not yet. They were not out of the woods and there were still three tributes between them and home. Haymitch felt a bit like pulling his hair out.
At least Katniss was doing better on her acting. The first two days had been the worst. She was too stiff and had barely done anything remotely affectionate. Luckily she caught on to his gift giving strategy and started to up the emotion. The story about the goat had been a shining moment really. The capitol loved it.
The only thorn in his side, beside the looming possibility of death, was Cato. The boy was fine most of the time honestly. Sure he still broke things and barely touched anyone. He would show up unannounced and not say a damn thing the whole time he was there.
The thing that was bothering Haymitch was Cato's reactions to recent events. Back when he had first offered to sponsor Katniss Haymitch had been sure the boy was love struck. Hell he had almost said as much after the fire. Haymitch could have sworn he saw adoration in the boy's face. But now, now monster mash was back in the building.
He would nodded his head whenever the romance was discusses like he agreed but it was clear from his eyes that he didn't understand. It was like an animal was trying to understand an abstract concept. Every now and then Haymitch caught Cato looking a bit like his head hurt from thinking. It was scary to imagine what happened in that skull.
Then again maybe it was a good thing that the brute seemed confused by love. He couldn't very well have two boys in love with Katniss.
"They are ready for you Mr. Abernathy." A woman with pink skin said pulling him out of his thoughts.
"Very good." Haymitch stood. He had bigger problems than emotionly stinted teens to deal with; he could figure that out after they came out of the games alive.
Chapter 11: Victor
"Here, I'll take the bow." Peeta smiled. I think my brain short-circuited for a second because I had heard him ask for my bow. "I'm just kidding. I'll gather some berries."
"Good because you stomp around like a bear." He really did. I was sure that ever rabbit and squirrel in the arena could hear us. "You would make a terrible hunter."
"You said something like that before. When we were in the cave is that a new moto?" Peeta was really enjoying himself. His leg was so much better and there were hardly any tributes left so we could be less careful. It was nice to see him smile again.
"Oh Cinna sent me a note that said 'a good hunter knows the forest.' I guess it has been on my mind." It had turned into a personal mantra for me in these last days. I said it over and over in my head to keep from analyzing everything.
"Cinna doesn't know the first thing about hunting." Peeta looked confused.
"What?" I wasn't following.
"He asked me if a shot to the eye was good."
"It was signed with a C. Who else could have sent it?" I asked. Peeta just shrugged but in the back of my I saw another blond boy who had mentioned hunting. But there was no way he had sent that note.
She pushed that thought from her head because it was time to hunt. They would need food soon and the games were coming to a close. Katniss emptied her mind, readied her bow and moved.
The boom of the cannon was the worst thing she had ever heard. It sunk into her and felt like an explosion.
"Peeta!" Not again. No she was not losing some one else. She was so blinded by relief and terror that she barely heard what she yelled at him. She was just so angry. He wasn't supposed to die on her, he wasn't allowed to.
They found Foxface then, with nightlock smeared on her lips. Four. They were down to four. There was only Maze and Thresh left. And Katniss was pretty sure that Maze had gone after Thresh when Thresh had killed Clove.
"Maybe Maze likes berries too." Katniss said scooping up the rest of the nightlock. They moved back so the hovercraft could come pick up Foxface.
"What time is it?" Peeta asked a little while later.
"About noon." Katniss looked at the sky and knew that it was getting darker by the minute. "I guess they are in a hurry to end it."
They crept along now in complete darkness. Katniss motion for Peeta to follow her and step where she stepped. He nodded in understanding and they set off. It was barely ten minutes before they heard it. Howling and excited barks followed by a death scream. Then silence and finally the cannon.
"What was that?" Peeta asked searching the trees with his eyes.
"The finale." Katniss said knowing that they were in danger now. That sounded like wolves or maybe closer to the wild dogs that she had to deal with back home. Which meant they needed to get off the ground. She turned to say as much to Peeta when she felt the eyes. They were being watched.
The creature leapt from the trees and ran at Peeta. She fired. It went down. But there were more. She wanted to yell run but they were both already moving, sprinting for the cornucopia and the lake.
Peeta reached the cornucopia first and scrambled up, he turned and reached back for Katniss helping her practically vault onto the top. But they weren't safe. Maze barreled into Katniss throwing her backwards and out of the way. It took her a second to regain her balance and grab her bow. Peeta and Maze grappled. A backpack was thrown at her suddenly and Katniss ducked on instinct.
It was only as she came up that she saw the knife coming for her, and then Peeta. The horrible noise of metal meeting flesh and she fired her last arrow into Maze's eye. He toppled backwards to the waiting creatures.
"Peeta!" She cried, the danger gone. The lay on the surface clutching his side where a rather nasty looking knife handle protruded from his abdomen.
"I told you. Always in the eye." He smiled weakly at her. It wasn't that bad of a stab really, if they came now he would be fine. She was sure of it.
"Hang on. They are going to come." She felt helpless and found herself brushing his hair and running her hands along his face and arms.
"No, no they wont be." Why was he still smiling?
"But we get to go home together." They said, the rules were different. She got to keep him. The rules were changed.
"No just you sweetheart." Peeta reached up with his right hand and rubbed the end of her braid. Something about that on act broke something inside her. Made something come out that she didn't even know was there. Say it, the piece of her cried.
"I love you." Because she did, maybe not all the way maybe not fully but still she loved him. He had saved her. She had saved him. They had saved each other. He gave her a real smile, his last real smile.
"I love you too." He coughed. "You know in a way the games are the best thing that has ever happened to me." Katniss felt tears on her face but had no idea how they got there. "Could you sing?"
"Yes." So Katniss sang The Valley Song for the second time in the hunger games. And when she was done Peeta kissed her for the last time and closed his eyes. She stayed there with him as the cannon fired. When the ladder was lowered for her she didn't budge, she was shaking to hard to stand. It hurt too much to unclench her hands. They came eventually and took him from her and she screamed.
She had lost him. She lost everyone. They were all taken from her. Father. Rue. Peeta. She was strong, but it didn't matter, they left her nonetheless.
It took him longer to find the phone that it should have. He blamed the lights being off and the mess on the floor. But he preferred the room that way. Chaos was real, order was an illusion.
"Haymitch," Cato said when the man picked up. "Get me the arrow out of Maze's skull."
"Why?" Haymitch's voice broke and Cato realized he was crying.
"It's a present." He explained and then hung up. Cato didn't know how to deal with tears. So he dealt with what he could understand. He dialed a different number.
"Platinum Jewelry and Commemorative Associates, this is Irra speaking."
"This is Cato. I will be having another one sent over shortly."
"Very good sir. And how would you like this one treated?" Irra asked in her high pitch accent.
"Same metal and design, only this one with Peeta's information." Cato's voice sounded colder to him than it had in a while.
"Excellent choice sir. This brings your total to two items." He could hear furious tapping in the background of the call. "They should be ready at the original date given. Can I do anything else for you?"
"No that will be all." Cato hung up. There it was taken care of, hopefully they would give her something he had never had, closure. She was alive, that was what really mattered. And as long as she was alive there was time. Time could fix a person, just not him. But maybe she had a chance to be whole again.
In a dark empty room in the center of the capitol surrounded by broken things Cato said the only thought in his mind.
"Not dead." Sitting there alone on his bed he felt the same twinge in his chest he had felt over a month ago.
Chapter 12: Grief
She woke up in the room again. This was the third or fourth time. The first had been with the Avox girl and the broth. The second she had struggled and they had knocked her out. There might have been a time before the Avox but she wasn't sure. Whenever she woke up it came back to her, all of it and that burned.
The white of the room blinded her again but this time when she struggled there was give. She wasn't strapped down and the tubes in her arms were gone. Katniss scrambled up as fast as she could manage before she realized she was too weak to even leave the bed, sitting up was taking it out of her.
She wasn't alone. Her instincts hit her once the shock of the room wore off and she was stunned by who it was. He was in much the same clothes she had seen him in last time, baggy shorts and a dark top. He was barefoot again as well. His chair was next to the bed but he was not paying attention to her. His hands twisted and Katniss recognized the brainteaser from last time. He appeared to be putting it back together now.
"Where is Haymitch?" Katniss asked. But she wanted to ask so much more.
"He was going to be back in an hour. Something about strangling a nurse." Cato shrugged his shoulders and kept messing with the brainteaser.
"What are you doing here?" Katniss asked. She wanted Haymitch or Cinna. But mostly she wanted Prim and her mother. She didn't want to be here where she had to be strong; she wanted to be allowed to collapse. It was over; she should be allowed to be weak now.
"These are for you." Cato said pulling a thick black box out of his pocket. He set in on her lap and went back to playing with his teaser. The box surprised Katniss with its weight and the velvety texture.
Curious and seeing nothing else to do she lifted the weighted lid. In side was perhaps the strangest thing Katniss had seen in a long time. She didn't know what she was expecting but what was in there was not it. They were bracelets, she knew that, but they were the most unique bracelets she had ever seen. They appeared to be arrows that had been twisted around until they formed three perfect loops. The lowest point was the arrowhead and the highest smoothed down tips.
The bracelets were not a single color but rather seemed to be a mock up of flames. The arrowheads and the first loop was a brilliant gold, the second loop a soft pink Katniss had never seen before. The tips appeared to be platinum or perhaps a white gold.
She ran her fingers around the loops to find that the shaft was still a perfect circle despite being bent. The arrowheads were no longer sharp but held their sharp, except here they were flat so they could lie against skin. The tips similarly had been smoothed and flattened to be safe on skin.
Katniss picked up the one on the left and turned it over. The colors blended seamlessly along the shaft never appearing to be anything other than a natural progression. She ran her thumb along the surface in aw until it caught on son something.
On the under side there were inscriptions on the loops. Katniss raised the bracelet to her face too read. Her eyes watered before she even got a good look at what was written, Rue. There was a second name that must have been her last name Katniss realized she had never asked. The next loop read District 11 and the final held dates that Katniss put together were the dated of her birth and death.
Katniss yanked the other up to look at it. There in delicate perfect script Peeta Mellark, District 12. Her face was wet. She hated this gaping hole that seemed to spread from her chest to consume her body.
"Why?" Katniss asked in a wobbly voice that sounded nothing like her own. She turned and faced Cato. He stared at her with those brilliant cold blue eyes and she felt weak, which made everything worse.
"For when they haunt you in your dreams. So that you can always know you ended it. You stopped their murderers." Cato's voice sounded hollow. Katniss didn't understand this boy who she had thought a monster looking so human now. "And for when it feels like a dream and you don't know what's real."
"But…" Katniss couldn't put into words the thought.
"Those are the actually arrows. Not imitations. Those are the arrows you fired." He assured her. Seeming to think that it was over Cato stood headed for the door. Her hand shot out before she even knew what she wanted grabbing his arm.
He paused and she realized she was touching him. No one was supposed to touch Brutal Cato. Every one knew that. He would break your arm or worse. But instead of any of those things he came back and sat on the edge of the bed.
Katniss knew her grip was too tight, she could feel her nails drawing blood but she didn't want to let go. She didn't want to be alone but she didn't want to be with anyone. But the people she wanted more than anything were the ones she couldn't have ever again.
She wanted her father to sing and tell her it was better. She wanted Rue to whistle. More than anything she wanted Peeta to smile at her again. But they were gone and the only one here was Cato, the monster that seemed to know her soul. She felt weak, exposed and lost. She hated it.
"Thank you." Katniss gasped between tears. Of course he didn't say anything, which just made her feel worse and sob harder. Then almost hesitantly Cato picked up the bracelet that was for Rue and her left arm. He slid it on with a little difficultly causing Katniss to hiccup. This was one of the oddest things that had happened to her in the Capitol. His face was what killed it; he looked positively lost trying to push the bracelet on her still spread hand.
Between hiccups Katniss was able to help him get both on her arms. She had to admit they look magnificent. The arrowhead sat just about her hands and the tip half way up her forearm. They were so large but they looked perfect there some how. Their weight felt familiar even if she wasn't used to the cold metal on her skin.
Seeing that the bracelets were now securely on her arms Cato gave a single nod that had a very definite sense of finality to it. Then almost as if summoned Haymitch appeared from the hidden door, he looked around taking in the scene before him.
"What did you do?" Haymitch pointed an accusing finger at Cato.
"Nothing." Cato's face went back to the stoney expression she had seen before.
"It was something. She wasn't crying when I left and now she is crying. So clearly she did something." Haymitch looked worse than Katniss remembered. His clothes were all over the place and his face was red and puffy. Katniss was shocked when Cato rolled his eyes at this and then stood to leave.
"I'm leaving." He stated stepping around Haymitch so they didn't touch.
"Charming, do you mind telling Cinna she is up?" Haymitch yelled after the boy.
"Not your personal servant." Came the booming response from the hallway. Haymitch just shrugged like this was something he was used to and then turned back to Katniss.
"Hi sweetheart." He came forward, his voice lowered and Katniss saw his face was red from crying.
"Hi." Katniss said weakly. "What now?" She could do this. It wasn't that hard, Haymitch told her what they needed to do she did it. After that she got to go home.
"Tonight is your recap." Katniss nodded even though she felt like running away or hiding under the bed. "Cinna has a few ideas in mind for things you can say, seeing as he has a better grasp on you than I do most days." Haymitch took up Cato's vacated seat. "It's okay to cry, in fact they will expecting you to cry when, um, at the end." His voice cracked and Katniss felt herself blink a few times as well. "Cinna and I are going to be right behind you off stage. You will be able to see us from where you are. We can cut in at any point if it's too much." Haymitch laughed. "I mean they let Brutus bodily remove Cato last year when he punched Caesar for shaking his hand so I am sure they will let me walk you off for a cry."
"Tomorrow you get crowned and have the ending parade. There will be follow up interviews but those are spaced out over several days. They will expect you to be in public a few times to meet fans, go shopping." Katniss felt her blood pressure skyrocket at that. "We have something planned for that. Cato is going to come with you for that make it look like he is showing you the capitol. No one is going to get close if you are with him so that should be alright." Katniss wasn't sure why the idea of having him with her made it better, but it did.
"A few small things. You will most likely be going home in two weeks." Katniss 's shoulders dropped. "I know sweetheart but after that you don't have to come back for six months." Haymitch gave her an awkward smile.
"Was that a joke?"
"A bad one." Haymitch admitted. Katniss gave him a watery smile. It wasn't better. It might never be better but it wasn't worse. She could do this. She had survived the games, she could survive what came after. For Prim. For Rue. For Peeta. She would survive for them. She would find a way to make it work. She rubbed her hands over her new bracelets and felt the stone in her throat slip away.
"Alright. Lets do this." Katniss told Haymitch holding out her hand.
"That's my girl."
Chapter 13: Pain
Her prep team was having fits. It was a good thing they never really asked her anything and just talked to themselves. They blabbered about the games and what they wore and the parties they went to. The talked about how they cried when Rue died because wasn't it sweet that Katniss was sad, no one was ever sad like that in the games. Octavia was the only one to bring up her scar though.
"I still don't understand why Haymitch and that boy threw such a fit when they were fixing you up." She twittered. "I mean they were giving you a full polish already what was a few other enhancements here and there. But to leave that scar on your head is gastly!" Katniss hadn't even noticed the slice above her brow. But now that they had pointed it out she was happy it was still there.
I don't want them to erase what happened. Because that was what they were trying to do, to make is all a dream to her. Suddenly she realized how much the arrows on her arms were worth. To make it real.
Eventually the prep team had her up to standards that made them happy. She was plucked and buffed and her nails clear and pretty. When they left she was alone for a moment. Katniss gazed at her reflection in the mirror. The last time she had seen her reflection it had been in the lake with Peeta while foraging. She looked nothing like that girl; she looked nothing like the girl she had seen in her father's mirror for years.
This girl was polished and soft, nothing like the wild and worn girl she was used to. Katniss stood there gazing at herself in the mirror. She might have looked a little silly in nothing but a dressing gown and the bracelets.
Cinna walked in before she had the chance to really analyze what she looked like to the last detail. Katniss ran into his outstretched arms without even thinking about it. His hug was perhaps the first thing that felt right since she woke up.
"Let me look at you." Cinna pulled her to arm's length and studied her. He smiled at her scar and frowned when he touched the ends of her hair but he wore the strangest expression when he saw the arrows on her arms. "Now aren't they interesting. Good to know he has some taste."
"You knew?" Katniss was a little shocked. The way Haymitch had puzzled over them had made it seem like this was a complete surprise.
"Well I was curious when victor Cato started asking to have arrows you shot in the arena brought to him." Cinna smiled and shrugged. "I might have indulged my curiosity and found out what he had planned. But I never did get the specifics." He held one up to the light. "I must say I am rather impressed with how they turned out."
"But why?" That was the real question on her mind. She hadn't seen Cato at all the rest of the day and Haymitch had just shrugged and said something about "monster mash" not making sense.
"Truthfully I don't have a good answer for that. He is a very tight lipped individual." Cinna went to the door and pulled down the black dress bag. "Luckily we appeared to have had a similar thought so you can wear them tonight."
He unzipped the bag to reveal a rather stunning dress. Everything Cinna made was fantastic but something about his dress called to Katniss, it looked a little bit like how she felt. It was covered in black and grey lace giving it the illusion of smoke. The skirt had an under layer of red and gold that when the fabric moved seemed to be burning embers.
"All burned out." Katniss said aloud.
"No, not burned out, not completely. Just no longer a blaze." Cinna tucked an errand strand of hair behind her ear. "Now you are the girl who burns."
All of a sudden she was crying and she couldn't stop. Cinna sat her down and fetched her a glass of water but Katniss couldn't seem to stop crying. The worst part was she spent the entire time worried she was ruining her perfect make up, making her cry harder. Cinna rubbed her back and let her get it out of her system.
"I don't think I can do this." Katniss muttered between sobs. "I can't relive it."
"I don't believe that for a second. The Katniss I know can do anything." Cinna gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "And on top of that she can make it look easy."
"I think you and I know different people." Where did his confidence her in come from?
"Oh I doubt that." Cinna gave her a great bit hug and tissues to blow her nose. "Feel any better?"
"Actually I do." Katniss was surprised by how much she had needed that cry, the weight it had taken off her shoulders to let some of it out.
"That's my girl. Now lets get you ready." Cinna went about touching up her makeup, which luckily was already waterproof. Katniss had caused the most damage when she was wiping away her tears more than anything. He fixed her hair although it was being left loose he worked some kind of product into to ends so they looked glossy.
He helped her into her dress and gave Katniss a moment to look at herself in the mirror. She looked like some one in mourning she realized. They had put a large amount of black makeup around her eyes and they stood out against her face. When she moved the dress swirled around her looking very much like smoke and embers.
"Thank you Cinna." This is what she needed. She was the girl who burned now no longer the girl on fire. The fire was gone.
"Your welcome." He gave her a kiss on her cheek. "Lets get you to Haymitch and Effie shall we?" Katniss nodded.
They left her room to find that there was a group waiting in the hallway. Effie was the first person to notice her and scream in delight.
"Oh Katniss! You look lovely! And you won!" Effie gave Katniss a hug. "I can get a promotion!" Effie said ruining the moment. The prep team had similar reactions of joy at her outfit. It was as they were circling her in excitement that she noticed Haymitch off to the side with Cato.
Both men were dressed in black suits. In fact almost everyone was in some variation of black or grey now that Katniss looked. Cinna must have dressed everyone. Which only raised more questions because why would Cinna be dressing Cato?
Cato was leaning against the wall with arms crossed watching Haymitch say something. Haymitch kept pointing wildly. Cato squinted at Haymitch during on of the rather vigorous points and then rather out of character stuck his foot out tripping Haymitch. It was over quickly because Haymitch righted himself almost immediately. The weirdest part was that Haymitch didn't even look upset or say anything he just said something else to Cato who raised an eyebrow rather than respond.
When did those two become friends? Katniss wondered, as if on cue Haymitch noticed the commotion and turned to speak to Katniss.
"Looking good sweetheart." He smiled at her. When Katniss turned to Cato he just nodded. That was it. She was beginning to understand Cinna's comment about him being tight lipped.
"Time to go everyone!" Effie announced. "We don't want to be late." She ushered everyone into the elevator. Some how it worked out that Katniss was standing next to Cato at the front by the doors. In fact it seemed a little bit like it was orchestrated by the way that Haymitch was right behind them with Cinna and Effie and the prep team in the back.
Katniss realized why the moment the doors opened and they stepped out on the ground floor. Cameras clicked and flashes sprang out of the crowd. People yelled her name and waved with joy. The crowd continued out into the street where the car that would take them to the stage awaited.
Katniss tried to remember to smile but knew that it came out weak and shy. Cato didn't even try to smile, he just glared at the camera nearest him and the person backed up a step. It was actually kind of funny the way people dodged him. When they got in the long car Haymitch turned to Cato and gave him a stern look before speaking.
"Now remember…" Haymitch started.
"Yes. I know." Cato cut in.
"We are here!" Effie announced almost immediately. They spilled out of the car and headed for the back stage area. At this point Cato broke off from the group and went down a different hallway. Katniss and the others continued down a flight of stairs until they reached the platform below the stage.
"Just pretend you are talking to Cinna." Haymitch gave as way of advice before being elevated to the stage. Katniss was the last to make it on stage and had the longest round of applause. Caesar came to greet her and gave her another spin and the crowd went wild at her dress.
"Now Katniss," Caesar said as they sat down. "We are all rather glad to have you back here with us. How are you feeling?"
"A little lost really." Katniss answered. She gazed behind Caesar to see that Cinna and Haymitch were standing just off stage so she could see them over Caesars shoulder, it made her feel better.
"I can imagine. You had quite the adventure in your games." It wasn't an adventure it was torture. Katniss felt herself slipping from the present and brushed her fingertips over the arrow on her right arm. She was supposed to say something to that but she had nothing to say so she stayed silent, Caesar caught on after a second.
"This must be very hard for you my dear." He gave her hand a reassuring pat.
"It is." Katniss said but inside she was screaming to leave.
"Well then why don't we start with the recap shall we?" And then the stage went dark and the giant screen began to play the games. It was worse than she expected. Seeing them alive and well hurt more than she could put into words. Even watching Peeta form that silly alliance that was clearly so he could protect her stabbed her heart. She hadn't known, not until this moment.
Seeing the burns on her leg brought the pain back. So did the trackerjacker stings. Then Rue. They played her whole song but cut out the part with the flowers. She knew what came next and she wanted to close her eyes but at the same time couldn't. On the screen he was alive and he was happy. He smiled and laughed and joked. He told her she was beautiful and said things that made no sense at the time but now meant more than the world to her.
She kept her eyes open for all of it and when the screen blacken and the lights turned back on Katniss was crying. Caesar gave her a moment to compose herself and tissue to blot her tears. She thought about calling Haymitch to get her off the stage but she wasn't going to.
She would not be weak here. Not in front of the monsters that had killed Peeta. Here she would be strong. So she stayed. She played the part but she never gave the answers they wanted or simply didn't answer. She refused to comment on Peeta at all. And when it was over she walked off that stage under her own power.
Once off the stage Katniss was moved to a sitting area where Effie explained she would meet other victors and some of her sponsors. Katniss took a seat but it quickly became clear that she had to stand every time a new person came over so she remained standing.
The sponsors were mostly strange capitol citizens that Katniss could barely understand much less distinguish. The victors were the real ones to make an impression. Wiress and Beete with their single mind. Cashmere and Gloss worried her. Finnick tried to flirt with her and that just made things worse.
The night dragged on until suddenly there was only one person left to speak with. Cato came up from the left, breaking away from the group of District Two victors. Effie had introduced each person who came over and Cato was not an exception.
"Katniss you have already meet him but what you may not know is that Cato was your very first sponsor." Effie clapped happily. "And perhaps one of the single largest contributors."
"It was you. You sent the note." Katniss couldn't believe it. "But victors never sponsor tributes outside their own district."
"I guess they do now." Cato shrugged.
"They do indeed. It was all over the feeds when he came out with us tonight. Our big reveal of his part in your victory." Effie looked ready to burst with joy. "District Two and Twelve are now on speaking terms."
"Haymitch?" Katniss turned wanting to know if this was true.
"That might be a bit of an exaggeration on Effie's part. Charming here is the only one that likes us. At least I think he likes us." Haymitch turned to Cato. "Do you like us charming?"
"I know where you sleep." Cato growled between clenched teeth at Haymitch.
"See, he does like us." Haymitch took a swig from his flask. Almost on impulse Katniss reached out and took a gulp from the flask herself. Whatever was in there burned causing Katniss to cough and stumble into some one.
She was horrified to find her shoulders firmly planted on Cato's chest. She waited for him to push her away or proper her up and step back but he didn't. Nor did he reach out to hold her tighter as Peeta would have. So there she was leaning against him with no real purpose. She righted herself and stepped back.
"It doesn't help." Cato said when she was standing on her own again.
"What doesn't?" Katniss snapped because she was fed up with this, with him, with the capitol with everything. None of it was real.
"Alcohol. It doesn't help. If it did he wouldn't need as much." Cato stated like Haymitch wasn't standing next to him.
"This is a choice." Haymitch snapped indignantly.
Katniss wasn't sure why that did it, but it did. Standing there realizing she had been thinking even for a second of drowning her pain in alcohol broke the last thread of resolve she had built for tonight. The tears came and she had no idea how to stop them. She buried her face in her hands to hide her weakness in front of all these people.
Someone pulled her to their chest and wrapped and arm around her. Like this her face was hidden in his chest. Katniss could smell the alcohol and was glad Haymitch was saving her this shame.
"She doesn't need to be here anymore." Cato's voice rumbled on her face and Katniss realized she was pressed against his chest and not Haymitch. She wanted to pull away; it wasn't his job to comfort her. But then she realized he wasn't doing this to comfort her, he was helping her hide this weakness. So she let him keep her pressed there in the crook of his chest as they left the stage and stayed there the whole way back to the apartment.
Chapter 14: The Talk
The pictures were everywhere. Holograms all over the city showed him at every angle walking with Katniss too and from the viewing. The feeds were filled wit mindless chatter about why he would choose to sponsor her. Wild speculation ran rampant and it wasn't even ten in the morning yet.
He wasn't hiding in his room he was simply delaying his exit. He had been on board for the reveal once Cinna had purposed it. Cato was still unclear why Cinna thought it was such a good idea but Haymitch wanted Katniss protected. He had been planning for Peeta make it out as well, and now those plans didn't work. She was too exposed and too beautiful for her own good.
So Cato was going to step in. The plans were tweaked. It was no longer a romantic story Haymitch had planned but something that felt more like friendship or maybe a big brother. His part was simple, stick with her, keep her safe and every now and then break something when the gossip turned against her.
The only part that was tricky with this particular plan was Brutus, Lyme and Enobaria. They would not take this well. In fact he was a bit surprised that one of them hadn't burst into the room demanding an explanation, then again he had made it clear last year that his room was his space and he did not tolerate violations.
Pushing down the part of him that wanted to stay and hide Cato left his room. He didn't bother getting dressed. If he appeared relaxed they would be less likely to expect a reaction from him. Not that he was sure how he was going to react just yet.
Cato took a seat silently at the breakfast table and for a few minutes no one acknowledged him. The others ate silently focused on their meals never looking up. But that only lasted until Lyme was done with her eggs.
"If no one else is going to say it then I shall." She turned to Cato with rage in her eyes. "What the fuck were you thinking? What would possibly posses you to sponsor some one from twelve. And then to round out the embarrassment you place nice with those miscreants. You have shamed the entire district! What do you have to say for yourself?" She seethed at him.
"I am a victor, I can do what I please." Cato shot back.
"That's not good enough. I need a good reason if I am going to let you go unguarded and drug free from now on." Lyme's voice lowered the threat real. Cato didn't even really think about it, he just threw the plate in front of him. It missed Lyme by centimeters because she dodged it. Then Brutus laughed. It was one of those deep full body laughs that made everyone at the table, even Cato, turn and give him the stink eye.
"Ladies can't you see what is going on here?" He continued to chuckle.
"No. Enlighten us." Enobaria gnashed her teeth at him.
"Our boy here is finally getting a taste of manhood." Brutus gave him a blinding smile. "And frankly I can't really complain about his choice."
"Stop being an idiot and make sense." Lyme snapped at Brutus.
"Lyme I am surprised at you and after everything I heard from your days as a victor." Brutus giggled. Cato was now convinced he was hallucinating and was still in his bedroom. Lyme then had the gall to blush. Now I am really lost. "Cato here has been on some very dulling drugs for a while now, and before that he had the games. Who can blame him for wanting to take a dip."
"Oh I see." Enobaria said then.
"And such a lovely swimming partner to choose. That hair and those eyes surely have men twice her age weak in the knees." Brutus continued jovialy. I broke him that can be the only expliantion. Because nothing he is saying makes any sense.
"Before this conversation gets any more menial I shall take my leave." Lyme huffed and left the table.
"You should be happy Lyme. He isn't being rebelous or acting against the capitol he just wants to explore the treasures of district twelve." Brutus shouted after the other mentor. Is he referring to coal?
"How are you so sure Brutus? Cato hasn't explained himself." Enobaria said looking suspicious.
"It's written all over his face. I just became more clear when he threw the plate." Brutus explained. Cato was pretty sure there was nothing written on his face nor was he showing any kind of emotion associate with whatever nonsense Brutus was going on about.
Enobaria seemed to buy this and left with a very noticeable sniff. Now that the ladies were gone Cato was forced to look at Brutus and he was no longer laughing.
"Lets be clear Cato. I hope for your sake that I am right. That this all just hormones and once you get her naked this will be over because you have made some very powerful enemies with this little stunt. You broke the rules." Brutus growled under his breath. "No one breaks the rules in Panem, not even victors. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir." Cato answered.
"Good." Brutus snapped and then left. Cato sat alone at the table wondering for the fifth time that morning what kind of mess he had gotten himself into.
Chapter 15: Crowned
"If you touch your hair one more time I will not be responsible for my actions." Cinna said threatening Cato who would not stop touching the ends of his smoothed down hair. He looked year older with his blond hair slicked close to his head and parted on the side, if only he would stop touching it.
"Why are you doing this again?" Cato grumbled. The boy knew how to pout and once you knew the signs it was pretty much all he did. But Cinna was not to be stopped. They had set a course and they were sticking to it.
"Because we are attempting to present a cohesive look on stage." Cinna handed Cato the suit jacket for him to put on. He had tried to take into account the boy's dislike for being touched as much as he could but at this point he did have to straighten things out. "May I?" Cato nodded.
"I have my own stylist." Cato stated. Cinna was starting to catch on that Cato spoke in not questions. He gave you a fact but not the question he wanted. It was an amusing game really trying to wiggle information out of Cato.
"I fired her." Cinna stated back. He wasn't really trying to annoy Cato, but he had to if he wanted any kind of reaction from the boy.
"You can do that?" There was no shock or confusion in the question but it was a question, which Cinna counted as a personal victory. If Cato was going to be able to do what Cinna had planned then he was going to need slightly better people skills.
"You pay your stylist out of your monthly tribute." Cinna made sure that the suit looked right before stepping back. "You can hire anyone after you are done with the games." Cato considered this then nodded in understanding. Cinna got the feeling that would be the last he would get out of him.
There had been whispers today. Whispers that people in power were not happy with Cato or Katniss for that matter. They weren't playing by the rules. Trouble would be coming for both of them and maybe keeping them together would make it worse.
But Cinna had looked Cato in the eyes all those weeks ago when Katniss was stranded in the cave with Peeta. Cinna had expected to see jealousy or maybe anger. He would have been sure that he would look into the eyes of a mad man that day. But all he saw was a very small boy who didn't know how to live in the world.
After that Cinna added Cato to his plans. He had planned for Peeta to be a part of the end game but he was gone and maybe just maybe Cato could fill those shoes better. Cinna needed symbols and the people who were symbols needed to be strong.
Cinna was keeping with the burning and smoke look for tonight, only this dress was made with something called tool. It felt like netting and it even looked like nets when it was close up. The fabric was twisted around her torso and bust creating the illusion of movement. It looked like tendrils of smoke swirled her body.
"This one is easy sweetheart," Haymitch began as he steered her towards the car. "You stand there and look really pretty while Snow speaks about the history of the games and what not. Then he puts the crown on your head. You smile and wave and people cheer and then we all go home and go to bed."
Tonight was more of a party than last night as far as the Capitol was concerned. It was a big celebration and it was all for Katniss. Nearly every citizen was stuffed into the streets so they could watch the crown be lifted off Cato's head and placed on hers.
Katniss was nervous about seing him again. Not that she would be speaking to him tonight. It was just every time they met things were odd. He said or did the strangest things and they always seemed to help. The brainteaser still sat in her room. She was wearing the arrows even now. He had helped her back to the apartment and then promptly left as if he knew she didn't want anyone there while she collapsed.
No one did stuff like that for no reason. But Haymitch and Cinna couldn't provide a decent one. Effie was less than no help when Katniss asked and watching the news reports had only made her head spin. One claimed he did it for the glory. Another thought he wanted to buy Katniss, literally. A third called it the act of the truly insane.
Her answers would have to wait because she was on the balcony and there was President Snow. The first twenty minutes consisted of a speech that Katniss didn't hear a word of. Finally after what seemed like forever Snow motioned for her to come forward. The crowd went wild at the sight of her.
Cato appeared off to her left looking very different. Up until now she had mostly seen him casual clothes and the suit from last night had looked like something he wore often. This suit was clearly a Cinna design; it had the lines of a Cinna suit. It reminded Katniss of something Peeta had worn before the games. But it was plainer. And he was wearing a bow tie. And his hair was slicked down under the crown. Katniss as a little more than shocked to see Cato like this, he looked like an adult.
He came and stood next to Snow. It was mildly comical because Cato towered over the most powerful man in the country and was forced to kneel so that Snow would not be forced to reach. But something happened just then as Cato bent down to a single knee, something passed between him and President Snow. And when Cato stood there was a strange look in his eyes.
Snow came over to Katniss and placed the golden crown on her head. He then held her hand and walked to the edge of the balcony so that the masses could see them. They stood there for a few minutes and then turned to her. "We are all so very proud to have our first Victor from District Twelve in so long." Snow said to the masses but there was something in his voice that said just the opposite.
Then it was over and Haymitch was there taking the crown off her head and handing it to a waiting Avox. And Effie was babbling near by with the prep team gushing in happiness. But Cato was nowhere to be seen and Katniss still was left without answers.
"Don't worry sweetheart," Haymitch said seeing the distress in her face. "Charming will be there for the big interview later tonight."
They hurried her back to the apartment for part one of her interviews. She was going to have some preliminary photos taken and just snippets of comments. It was all to promote the big interview tomorrow.
"Do try to smile dear." Effie said giving Katniss a push into an ornate looking chair. Cinna helped pose her between shots. Folding her legs or lifting her hair up. Putting her arms in place and tilting her head. And then the cameras would click and they moved her again.
That went on until she could barely keep her eyes open. Had it really only been a day since she woke up in the hospital? It felt like forever. But she had to hold on until this was over and then she could sleep in tomorrow. Or not. Sleep no longer came to Katniss.
"I think we can do the final shot now?" The photographer said motioning towards Haymitch, who walked out and came back with Cato in tow. There was an awkward moment as everyone stopped to look at the two of them as if expecting something. But Cato didn't move and Katniss wasn't particularly energetic, so they just looked at each other blankly.
"Why don't we try the sofa lay out I had suggested?" Cinna stepped in and led every one to a white love seat. "Cato have a seat on the right." Once there Cinna guided Cato into the exact position he wanted. He was leaning back with one arm stretched across the back of the sofa and his legs spread wide. "Now Katniss lay down with your head on his leg." Cinna instructed her.
She hesitated but then realized everyone was waiting for her to get on with it so she complied. Once there Cinna removed her shoes and tucked one of her legs up under her but left the other dangling over the edge of the sofa. He arranged her hair so it spilled down the inside of Cato's leg and folded her hands under her chin.
Katniss could feel the tension in Cato's leg. It flexed and unflexed every few seconds and she knew he was as uncomfortable with this as she was. But as the photographer had pointed out this was the big shot for tomorrow. It showed them together, something that was on everyone's mind even Katniss herself thought about it.
"I think we have it." The photographer gave the signal and everyone began packing up.
"Sorry." Katniss said sitting up.
"About what?" Cato brushed his jacket back down but didn't look at her.
"I know you don't like to be touched and I didn't really ask." Katniss felt silly saying this. It wasn't her but she was treading water here and had no idea what to say to him.
"I'm not going to snap your neck if that is what you are worried about." Cato pulled at his pants. He clearly was not comfortable in his clothes.
"Why not?" She asked.
"No point." Cato stood and walked away.
It left a bad taste in her mouth. This whole ordeal was wrong. The wrong person had been on that sofa and nothing was going to fix that. So rather than cry this time Katniss took the part of herself that was sad and cried and pushed it deep down. She would survive this. She would survive all of them.
Chapter 16: Questions
"Stop making that face." He told Katniss. She frowned harder. "That one. Don't make that face in the interview." She let out a sigh and the air pushed her hair away from her face. She was dressed down for today; they wanted her to look like herself. The braid was there but she was only wearing a black shirt and a pair of red pants.
"I'm going to be terrible." Katniss pouted.
"Yes you are." Haymitch nodded in agreement. It earned him a swift kick to the shins. "Ow." He was a little glad to have angry Katniss back; she was easier to deal with than sad Katniss. Only angry Katniss tended to lean towards bodily harm so that was a draw back.
"They are ready for you." Cinna came over and steered Katniss to her chair. He came back to stand next to Haymitch. "You look like you are being tortured." He observed.
"I feel like." Haymitch admitted. They were leaving the plan in the hands of two emotionally retarded teens. Of course he was panicking. Katniss could barely keep a smile and Cato while no longer a danger of murdering everyone tended to just stare blankly when things didn't compute. And they were the ones in front of the camera today.
"Tell me Katniss, how are you doing?" Caesar asked.
"I don't think I have fully accepted it yet." She said with a weak smile. Not bad.
"I can understand. This all must be over whelming." Caesar did one of those faces that the Capitol people seemed to enjoy. "I must say you are looking rather well. Tell me about the dresses."
"I of course have my stylist Cinna to thank for them. He was the one who made me the girl on fire. But now there is no one else to burn in my way. I am still on fire but not as bright." Katniss said seriously. Where did that come from?
"Did you tell her to say that?" Haymitch asked Cinna. He made a noncommittal motion that translated into a yes as far as Haymitch was concerned.
"Now I don't think that is true you looked rather bright to be last night." Caesar gave Katniss a little hand pat. "And you weren't alone were you?" Caesar looked directly at the screen to milk the moment.
"No." Katniss responded. Did that sound sullen to anyone else? I heard distinct sullenness in that.
"Why don't we bring him out?" Caesar motioned towards the dinning room where Cato was waiting. Seeing the cue some told Cato to come down and sit at the chair next to Katniss. Haymitch was sure that most of the cameras swung to capture his entrance but Haymitch was busy watching Katniss. Don't scowl, don't frown. He saved your life and you don't even know it.
Cato came in and took his seat in the gold chair next to Katniss. He was dressed down as well only he was wearing black pants and a grey sweater with a fancy neck. Haymitch was unclear with the vision here was but he was starting to catch on that only Katniss got to wear red according to Cinna.
"Welcome Cato and my I say it is a pleasure to have you back." Caesar said but Haymitch could see the man flinch for a second.
"Thank you Caesar, glad to be back. Hoping to make up for the last time I was in one of these chairs." Cato gave a big smile and even winked at the camera. He is very convincing.
"No harm done." Caesar laughed but for once it was very clear that the laugh was fake. Good for him. I wish I could make that big marshmallow scared myself. "Now Cato, everyone is just dying to hear about how you decided to sponsor our lovely Katniss.'
Make eye contact Katniss. He wont bite, he promised he wouldn't at least. Engage with him.
"Well Caesar I have been watching reapings for years and over the years I have gotten a feel for the kind or person it takes to be a victor. Being one my self I thought I should try and pick a winner." Cato really was charming when he wanted to be.
"And you didn't see the tributes from two winning this year?" Caesar asked.
"They didn't have the right mix. To be a victor it takes a mix of instinct, survival, skill, confidence and just a little bit of fire. You have to be too stubborn to die." Cato chuckled right on time to that.
"You might be on to something there. Katniss does seem to have that perfect mix." Caesar laughed along with him. "I understand you were the main donor for that burn cream is that correct?"
"What can I say, I am not a fan of bad puns." Cato gave a shrug. Caesar exploded with laugher and Katniss looked lost. It's a joke sweetheart they are joking about setting you on fire.
"Who would have thought they would try to set the girl on fire, on fire." More laughter. A tiny smile from Katniss and then success, she turned and looked right at Cato. He gave her a small half smile and she returned it with one of her own and a little head tilt. We can work with that.
"Katniss did you know that you had such a famous sponsor and fan?"
"Not until the other night no." Katniss half stammered.
"Well I know we were all rather surprised to find out. And to think he was the one that sent you that note. How do you feel now that you know?"
"I'm not really sure. This is only the third time we have talked." Katniss made a little motion to indicate the current arrangement. "I'm flattered of course but still not sure what I did to deserve such and honor. "
"Only your third time?" Caesar looked shocked. "Cato you choose to sponsor her without even meeting her?"
"Of course. Most sponsors don't get to meet their tributes until after the games, why would I be any different?" Cato sounded funny on that question. It tickled Haymitch's brain because he was pretty sure the boy was lying.
"Yes but most sponsors don't live in the same building as their tributes." Caesar gave a wiggle of his eyebrows.
"I don't see your point." Cato responded. Shit, he is back to being himself.
"Are you saying that you two never ran into each other before the games?" Caesar was digging.
They said it at the same time. They had meet before, they were lying. And now everyone knew from the way Katniss fidgeted and Cato turned into stone.
"I see." Caesar said skeptically. "Because I saw the photos from last night and you too looked awful cozy together."
"Really? I haven't seen them. I was half asleep by the time they were taken." Katniss admitted. It was worse. She was saying she felt comfortable around him in so many words. Haymitch could hear the gossip already. He had given the capitol one love story and now they were hungry for more. And these two idiots were playing right into it.
"We really must get you a copy then. But you know what stood out the most to me? Your lovely new bracelets. Do you mind?" Caesar held out her hand and Katniss obediently held out her own so that Caesar could inspect the arrows. "This is Platinum Jewelers, I recognize their craftsmanship."
"The box didn't really have any writing on it so I don't know." Katniss admitted. No, stop talking. This time I don't want you to talk. Stop now.
"Tell me when it's over." Haymitch muttered to Cinna.
"Its fine." Cinna told him.
"So you didn't order these?" Katniss shook her head.
"They were a gift." She explained.
"A gift, who from?" Caesar looked excited and expectant. Don't answer that!
"Well, um…from Cato." Katniss mumbled it but Haymitch knew every one heard. The whole nation heard.
"Cato, what did you have in mind when you had these made?" Caesar had the decency not to leer.
"Well Caesar they are made from her two kill arrows. I thought if I was going to be sponsoring a victor shouldn't she wear her accomplishments with pride." Cato sounded smooth again. He must have been anticipating that one.
"Oh what a glorious idea." Caesar clapped happily. "How creative to use the real arrows. But it must have been expensive."
"What's the point in buying a girl jewelry if it isn't expensive?" Cato joke. He is feeding the rumors and he isn't even aware. This time tomorrow they will be saying he bought her with those bracelets.
"Very true my boy, very true." Caesar laughed it off.
At that point things turned back to Katnisss. How did she feel about the food this time? How much lamb stew had she eaten? Was she excited to go shopping? What was she most looking forward to in the capitol? Had she seen any more surprises Cinna might have? Was she excited to go back to twelve? Had she seen the tapes of the food and goods being delivered to the people of twelve? What would she miss most about the capitol?
Cato good-naturedly sat thought it all, despite the fact that he began to rub his knuckles he kept up the act. The moment the interview was over and Caesar signed off Cato burst out of his chair and stomped out the door.
"What was that?" Katniss said with a sour look.
"He doesn't do still for that long." Haymitch explained. "He paces like a madman most of the time."
"Oh." She relaxed at that.
"Why don't we get you something to eat, that might make you feel a little better." Haymitch pushed Katniss towards the dinning room.
"Sure." But he knew her heart wasn't in it.
Chapter 17: Locked
She hadn't really been sleeping. Just staring out the window hoping for sleep. She would close her eyes for periods of time and think that maybe she had fallen asleep but then she would open them and realize she was still too awake. So she wasn't really startled when she heard the noise coming from somewhere in the apartment. It was probably Haymitch up late having something he called a 'nightcap'.
Katniss padded through the darkened apartment listening for the noise and heard something coming from the room with the large screen. It was switched on and appeared to be scrolling through the feeds continuously. It was only when she got closer that she realized there was some one sitting on the sofa.
Cato was back to the dark sweats he appeared to wear when not dressed by a stylist. He was sitting at the center of the sofa holding the remote and clicked the feed change button every second or so. As she got closer she could see that his legs were bouncing in an alternating pattern and that he was clenching and unclenching his left hand in time with his legs.
Katniss stood there for a moment not sure what to do. Cato hadn't turned to look at her and she was practically next to him now. She saw the blood then. It was dripping from the hand that he kept clenching. From what she could tell the cut was on the palm of his hand because she couldn't get a clear look at it.
"They locked the gym." He said suddenly still looking at the screen. Katniss was unsure how to respond to that so she stayed where she was. "They never lock the gym. I have all the codes."
"What happened to your hand?" Katniss asked feeling thoroughly lost here.
"I broke the vase in the hall way." Cato said truthfully.
"Which one?" There were actually a lot of vases in the apartment.
"It was green." Cato admitted. "I think. I can check the glass in my hand." He opened his left hand and brought it up to his face. With his teeth he pulled a sliver of glass out of his palm and spit onto the coffee table. "It was the green one."
Katniss believed Cato could easily lose his judgement in a fit of temper. Not that she felt superior on that point. She thought of the moment she sent the arrow flying into the apple in the pig's mouth when she was so enraged. Maybe she did understand Cato better than she thought.
Katniss wanted to laugh. Who did that? Who left glass in their hand like that and then pulled it out with their teeth? But she didn't because she realized that there was something wrong here. Something he was trying to say. It was a little bit like having a conversation with Madge, if Madge was a towering male specimen.
"You are bleeding." She pointed out.
"We should put something on that." Katniss offered. Cato looked at his hand and then nodded.
"That would be best." He didn't appear to be moving. Katniss sighed.
"I'll be right back." She headed back to the bathroom where she had seen a first aid kit. With that in hand she came back and sat down on Cato's left so she was closer to his injured hand. "Give me your hand."
Cato passed his hand to her but kept his attention on the screen and never stopped bouncing his legs. Katniss was beginning to wonder about that when she got a look at the cut, cuts actually. He must have slammed his palm down into the vase or simply crushed it with only this hand. It didn't need stitches but it was ragged.
She got out the disinfectant and applied that first, Cato didn't even blink. It was surreal. Sitting here in the dark for the second time in so many days patching up a boy with blond hair. She didn't mean to, she never did, but she was crying. Or at least tears were leaving her eyes but she didn't make a sound. Cato must have noticed because he said something then.
"I'm sorry. I wanted to help. I am making it worse." He admitted and it sounded like a child. It didn't sound anything like he normally did.
"Why?" Katniss wasn't sure which one of the million whys she was asking.
"It feels tight. The whole city is watched. It's a big cage. I hate cages. The games were a cage. I never got to leave, even when I won. But maybe if I helped you could get free. I only made it worse." Cato sounded like he was babbling. It was disjointed and confusing but something in there sounded familiar. She had heard some one sound like this once before, some one who came to see her mother.
"That's not true." Katniss said because it was what she thought she should say.
"Yes it is." Cato snapped. So they sat there in silence while Katniss finished bandaging his hand.
"All done." She told him. Katniss thought now would be a good time to leave but she didn't because she didn't really want to be in her room. Sensing that something was up Cato stopped flipping between all the feeds and after a brief pause handed the remote to Katniss.
"The big ones on the left move the feeds." Cato explained. Katniss took it and began moving through all the feeds at a much lower speed.
"I think they gave them too much coverage this year. The games lasted forever."
"You can only choose one of the many men to love. Who do you choose?"
"That hat does nothing for that outfit."
"Tonight we will have the rejects come back to tell us how that felt."
"Paisley wigs, are they worth the wait? Find out now!"
"What do you make of this thing with Cato and Katniss?" She paused hearing their names. Two men sat in brightly colored chairs drinking out of teacups. The one in the orange was speaking.
"Right well lets look at the facts. Cato has been hailed as one of the most brutal tributes of the last decade. His games were finished in a matter of days and most of the kills were his own. But since the games he has not really been sane." The orange man said.
"Tragically no." The one in teal agreed.
"Now about the time of the reapings he started to make public appearances and looked to be doing much better. In fact I would say we are starting to see the same boy who first came to the capitol from district two. At the same time we have Katniss the first volunteer from twelve in over thirty years. She blows away the game makers with something and they give her the highest score on record, only being tied with the 27th hunger games victor. "
"Haymitch Abernathy has admitted that Cato offered sponsorship before that score came out so we are looking at something that clearly happened without us knowing. If we disregard the events during the games we get an interesting picture. Platinum Jewelers has released the cost of those lovely arrow bracelets and they are well beyond the price range of something one would consider a friendship present."
"I completely agree." Teal said smugly. "Clearly he has motivations beyond simple friendship."
Cato grabbed the remote from her hand and smashed in the button changing the channel.
"They think what?" Katniss wondered aloud.
"It's just more of the same." Cato clicked to a channel that seemed to be about technology and gadgets.
"Of what?" Katniss really would like him to answer her in a way that made sense.
"Sex." Cato said darkly. "Everyone thinks this is about sex." Katniss felt heat creep up her face and was thankful for the gloom and the fact that Cato hardly ever looked at her.
"What…what is it about?" Was that her voice? It sounded high and off and dry.
"Survival." Cato answered honestly. "You needed to survive."
"Why me?" It was the question. The one question she always seemed to ask with him.
"I don't know. It just had to be you." He admitted.
Katniss didn't know how to take that. And it felt like a debt. The last boy she had owed a debt to died in her arms. She was going to take care of this one as soon as possible. It would be better for both of them.
"Do you think the gym would be locked for my code?" She asked suddenly.
"What is your code?" Cato said but for the first time his legs stopped bouncing. She got it right. He was spun too tightly; he needed to run or something to keep his hold on his mind. There had been an old man back home who acted similarly if he had nothing to do.
"9395." Katniss explained.
"I didn't try that one." Cato stood suddenly and stormed out of the room. So that was the end of that. But then rather unexpectedly Cato returned a moment latter. "Thank you. Sorry about the blood." He turned to leave again. This time he stayed gone and after an hour Katniss figured he must have gotten into the gym.
Chapter 18: Shopping
No one was going to style him today. He had to do that on is own. But he had been instructed now to wear his sweats. Cinna had made threats if he wore sweats. This hurt his head a little. Finally figuring he was not going to make Cinna happy no matter what he wore he grabbed denim pants and a plaid shirt. It was one of the more brightly colored shirts he had with blue and red. Red was okay, red worked with what Cinna always made Katniss wear and he was going to be with her today.
He was waiting the hallway for a good ten minutes before Katniss and Cinna made an appearance. Cinna as always was in black but Katniss was dressed in something different. It was a light frilly dress that seemed wrong on her. She was not girly or soft. But the plae yellow seemed to be in theme with Cinna's theme.
"I will meet you at a few stores I have reservations at, so we can actually do some real shopping for the victory tour." Cinna explained. "But the rest of this needs to be you just out seeing the city. Cato is going to be with you so hopefully no one will bother you too much."
"When do I need to meet you?" Katniss asked.
"First appointment is at noon." Cinna then motioned them towards the elevator. "You two kids have fun."
"This is not my idea of fun." Cato said once they were in the elevator and alone.
"Mine either." Katniss agreed with a small smile. Well at least they were on the same page as far as that was concerned.
"As long as they don't know." Cato nodded at the doors that were now opening.
"If we get tired of smiling you could always beat some one up." Katniss offered ad they neared the exit of the building.
"Haymitch told me not to." In fact Haymitch had told him not to do a lot things. He wasn't to break any bones today, or vases. He had been abundantly clear that every vase in the capitol was to remain in tact today.
"Haymitch isn't your mentor." Katniss pursed her lips together making a rather comical face.
"Brutus always proves of violence." Cato offered with a small smile.
"I won't tell if you don't." Katniss whispered as they walked out into the light and were surrounded by photographers and fans.
"Deal." Cato responded under his breath.
For a short time they were trapped there. People wanted pictures of Katniss so she had to stand and smile. Some shouted questions but she never answered back. One person shouted something at Cato, but he glared and then no one else said anything to him. A few children wanted to have her autograph a photo.
They ran up in a tiny cluster of motion. Bright colored clothes whirled around them creating a rainbow tornado. Cato took a step back. He didn't do well around children. Too many memories, too many years thinking of them as targets.
Katniss on the other hand seemed to enjoy the children more than the adults. She crouched down and spoke to each one individually making sure to ask their name or compliment their outfit. She took their praise with a shy smile. She must be a great sister. Cato realized she was probably just doing what she did with her sister every day.
Eventually the crowd parted and they headed out into the city. There was an awkward moment as they stood at a street corner looking around. Cato knew the city but had no idea where to take Katniss.
"Where do you go?" She asked.
"Um." Cato said aloud. Where did he go? Sure he was in the capitol most of the time. He barely went back to Two. Why would he? There was nothing for him there, not that there was anything for him here. They were supposed to be shopping, for things Katniss would like. His brain went blank. White noise played in his ears for a minute. Then he thought about the kids.
"Toys?" He suggested. She blinked at him. "For your sister, pip something?" He tried.
"Prim." She corrected. "She might like something soft and cute." Katniss offered sounded unsure. This is going to be a long day.
They made their way down the streets until they found one of the toy stores Cato recognized. He had come here once after the games were over. He had stood outside looking at the window display flabbergasted. Cato had never seen so many toys in his life. He could barely remember owning anything that wasn't a weapon.
Looking in again he realized that it was not some place he wanted to be. It was packed with families and children. There would be no avoiding people in there. Katniss must have sensed something because she paused while reaching for the door.
"We don't have to go in." She offered.
"No. It's fine." He shook his head. Cato stuffed his hands in his pant pockets and steeled himself for this. It was only half as bad as he expected. The isles were tiny and people backed out of the way when they saw him coming. Katniss made a line for the stuffed animals. But once there she appeared stumped, so they stood there staring at a wall of fluffy animals all of who creeped Cato out. They had glass eyes that to him looked a little too much like dead eyes.
"I think rabbit." Katniss said but it sounded like a question. She turned to him and he shrugged. Cato was pretty sure his face said don't look at me. Katniss reached up and took down a velvet powder blue rabbit. When they got to the register they hit their next snag. "How do I pay for this?"
"They just need your name. You are a victor. Your accounts are already registered in every store." Cato explained.
"Oh. That's different." Katniss stammered. Cato felt better once they were out of the store although now Katniss was carrying a bright blue bag with lacey paper poking out from the top.
Figuring that she might want gifts for the other people in her family member Cato headed to a few other stores in the area. He had remembered vaguely seeing a boy and some one that must have been her mother.
They stopped at several stores that he thought maybe would have something but Katniss didn't seem to find anything she liked. Until they went to a store with things for the kitchen, then Katniss seemed to light up at the sight. There was a trend in the Capitol to have fully stocked kitchens with all the utensils despite the fact that none of them were ever used.
Katniss bought pots and pans and knives and a few other things that Cato didn't recognize. She bought so much that the items were going to be shipped to district twelve. Katniss left that store in a much better mood than she had in the left the last.
"Its almost noon." Cato informed her as they walked down the street.
"Oh thank you." The walked in the bright sunlight back towards the center of the Capitol. It was kind of nice, being outside without Brutus or one of the others hovering near by. Cato didn't remember the last time he had been completely alone in the Capitol. Well he wasn't alone but Katniss was unobtrusive. She didn't feel the need to talk or stand close to him or check to make sure he was there. The only time she would look at him was when they reached and intersection and she needed to know where to go.
Cato realized that being with Katniss was pleasant. He was as close to comfortable at this moment that he could be. Cato was never really comfortable and hadn't felt so as long as he could remember. He might have been at some time when he was a child but those memories were covered with images of training and death.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he wasn't really aware of his surroundings until the sales woman approached them.
"Welcome to Paralax, do you have an appointment?" The yellow woman said. She had her skin dyed a neon shade making her pink dress combination very flower like.
"We are meeting Cinna." Katniss told the flower woman.
"Excellent. Follow me Victors Katniss and Cato." They headed towards the back of the store where he could make out the signature black that was Cinna in the sea of colors.
"Have you been having fun?" Cinna asked. Katniss nodded. "Cato why don't you have a seat here?" He indicated a large chair that was positioned to face a set of doors. Cato shrugged and sat down.
He was there for several minutes with nothing to do or look at before they came back. He saw Cinna first and then he saw Katniss. She was wearing a red dress. It was plain unlike all the things Cinna normally put her in. But it was tight and very low. She must have put the weight back on in the hospital. She wasn't as skinny as he thought.
"This one is easy to put on without me." Cinna began turning Katniss to face a mirror. "It keeps with our theme as well. What do you think?"
"There isn't a lot of it is there?" Katniss turned a few times moving her arms about.
"What do you think Cato?" Cinna turned to get a look at him.
"It looks soft." Cato offered. It did. That couldn't be wrong.
"True it is a very soft fabric." Cinna smiled and turned back to Katniss, Cato was convinced he had just done something wrong from the tone of that smile.
"I guess it's fine." Katniss shrugged and the fabric slipped and inch. Cato blinked.
"Excellent. I think something short next." Cinna ushered her back behind one of the doors. Cato fidgeted in the seat; he hoped there wouldn't be more like that. This one was white, and short, and had no straps.
"I thought this would be good for district three or one." Cinna offered as Katniss wobbled in the heels. "The silver in the skirt will work well with their current fashions."
When the third dress was green and had an even lower like than the first and the second Cato thought Cinna might be up to something. He wasn't sure of course. Cinna just smiled no matter what was happenings or looked slightly pleased.
"What do you think of this one?" Cinna asked about the green dress.
"I think I look naked." Kantiss said truthfully. Cato tried to clear his thought and it came out in a series of coughs that sounded rather loud in the mostly silent shop.
"With that seal of approval I think we have to get it." Cinna gave Cato a wink and then took Katniss back behind the door.
He was definitely up something and Cato was not okay with whatever this plan was. He could put together the vague idea that Cinna was putting Katniss in clothes that were more mature. But he also seemed to be gauging Cato's reaction to each dress. Which meant he was expecting Cato to have reaction.
The next dress was gold and for the first time was completely covering Katniss's front side, then she turned and Cato saw the back didn't exist. Cinna was up to something and he now had a really good idea of what it was.
"Cato what do you think of this one?" Cinna's smile no longer looked good-natured, it looked tricky. He wants to fuel the rumors. Pictures of today will make it look like I am dressing her to show her off. Bastard.
"It's shiny." He glared at Cinna who just laughed cryptically. This happened in about the same way for another hour. Katniss would wear something and looking confused and uncomfortable, Cinna would ask what Cato though, Cato would make a statement that was not agreement.
He was pretty sure she had tried on half the store when Katniss finally came out alone in the original pale yellow dress. She collapsed in the chair next to him and leaned her head back.
"The games were easier than this." She muttered darkly. It was just too funny. He didn't mean to laugh, he really didn't but he did. It was more of a bark because it burst from him in a loud shot of noise causing Katniss to jump in her seat.
"I could always punch him while you run." Cato chuckled. Katniss stared at him for a second as if she was trying to put something together.
"Tempting but I like him, or at least I used to." She returned his smile weakly.
So it was that when Cinna came out of back he found Cato and Katnis sitting together leaning towards one another smiling. He didn't mean to ruin the moment, not after all the work he was putting towards trying to get it to happen. But the second Cato sensed another presence he tensed up and sat back in the chair.
But Cinna wasn't fooled. He had seen the energy there. Sure neither one was ready for anything but when they were there was a foundation in place. Cinna thought that there might be something more already when it came to Cato's side. The boy had no experience with the waters he was treading and maybe he was playing it closer to the vest than he knew.
It was Katniss Cinna worried about. She knew what love felt like but kept pretending it wasn't there. She wasn't over the death of her father. She wasn't over the death of Rue. And she might never recover from losing Peeta.
Cinna didn't expect a miracle he just needed them human. Human and together. He could work with a story of two kids who put each other back together after the games. They were already acting out their small rebellions but together they were unstoppable.
"How did it go?" He asked Cato catching the boy before he could leave the apartment.
"Is there any reason Cinna would be dressing Katniss differently?" Cato asked back. He rarely gave any kind of easy answer, but that was the fun of talking with monster mash.
"No." Haymitch wondered where this was going. "Why?" He was hoping it wasn't what he thought it was.
"Most of what she tried on today didn't have a front or a back, one time both." Cato raised one eyebrow and that some how made it worse. Haymitch could picture it and he really didn't want to. Katniss was a sweet little girl and was not to be wearing anything sexy any time soon. Nor was Cato supposed to be looking at her in sexy clothing.
"Excuse me charming, I am going to go grab a bottle of rum to break over Cinna's head." Haymitch stammered.
"You are out of rum." Cato reminded him. He was in fact out of rum; he had finished it last night.
"Tequila then. It will burn more." Haymitch insisted and then stomped off to find the stylist.
She didn't so much rip the dress off as pull it over her head at a great speed. Katniss was pretty sure that if she had to put on another dress this week she would tear it to pieces with her hands. Hell she might start carrying knives just for that express purpose.
The first part of the day hadn't been too horrible. She had a present for Prim and gifts for her mother and Gale from the second store. She felt better about spending money on those than she did on any of the dresses she bought today.
Katniss hated most of them. She had liked her fire dress and even the interview and recap dresses had been lovely. But these new dresses were all wrong. Cinna had insisted she at least try them because they served their purpose but she felt exposed and awkward in each.
Thankfully Cato hadn't mentioned how awful she looked. He commented on the color or the fabric but he never said what she was sure he was thinking, that none of the dresses worked on her.
If she thought about it, excluding the dresses, today had been rather nice. No one asked her how she was doing. No one trying to congratulate her. No Haymitch watching her with sad eyes. Just her and Cato wondering the city. He was good company, he didn't bother her or complain if she wanted to take her time.
In fact something about today reminded her a little of how she felt in the woods with Gale. It was easy. The biggest difference was that Gale always had an opinion and Cato never seemed to have any.
Well that wasn't true. After the first two dress debacles they had gone to a store that sold sturdy plain clothes and tools. There he had put a pair of boots in her hands when she reached for another pair.
"Those aren't water proof." That was it. And when she had looked the pair he had picked was much better suited to last for longer. In that store Katniss had waited to see what he would pick before moving for an item. Cato would scan the shelves and when he found the item he considered the best he would pause and then nodded at it and move on to the next.
She had bought gifts for half of twelve at that store. Or at least everyone she could think of. Most of the seam would now have boots and jackets for the winter. These gifts would be delivered with the large gifts that came as part of her winning the games. Katniss didn't want them to know she had done this for them. She didn't need them in her dept.
The hardest part had been the ovens. Katniss had been trailing behind Cato not really paying attention to where they were when he stopped and then backed up a few steps. The wall was covered with photos and descriptions of the best ovens available. At first she had been confused as to what caught his eye until he nodded at one in the middle.
It was a baking oven. It had the ability to bake seven loafs of bread and three cakes plus a tray of cookies at once. The information claimed that all the best bakeries in the capitol used this oven and it was not available to the public so they could have deserts at their parties in convince. But Katniss knew what it really was, her apology to the Mellarks.
Cato hadn't said anything when she cried in the store. He had just handed her one of the handkerchief things that were used to blog faces and turned away. Katniss was glad because she was pretty sure having to look into his blue eyes that were so similar yet so different would have just made her sob harder.
Katniss crawled into bed filled with conflicting emtions. She hated the dresses but love the rabbit for Prim. She liked the boots and jackets but wanted to cry every time she thought about that beautiful perfect oven she had bought. But the one thought that stayed with her was that she was happy Cato had been with her today.
Chapter 19: Fans
"Next." The game maker next to her called and another family stepped forward. Katniss was signing autographs at something they called a book store, although there were no books with paper in them. Everything in this store was tiny screens that could be folded into a pocket or purse.
Katniss was sitting behind a table wearing the recap dress with guards on either side of her. She had been shocked by this whole situation because it was something that never got televised to the districts. But apparently she was a celebrity now and people wanted her to sign her name on pictures of herself.
There were several large cut outs of her that must have been taken during the games behind her. There was on where she was shooting, another where she was climbing a tree. The interview dress was featured as well in the cutouts.
This family had children who rushed her table and threw down their photos. Katniss smiled like she had been told to and started to sign the photographs.
"Why isn't Cato here?" The little girl asked.
"Why would Cato bee here?" Katniss asked back.
"Because he is in all the new pictures with you." The girl reached into her purple dress and pulled out a screen tapping it. "See!" She turned the screen so Katniss could see a collection of photos. The first photo was the night of the recap, the second the same night but she was tucking into his chest. Katniss remembered that but she had been so tired and sad at the time that she had barely paid attention. To see it from an outside perspective they looked different. It reminded her of the way her parents used to look when he mom would lose a patient and that bothered her.
The little girl scrolled to pictures from the interview where Katniss was talking but Cato was just watching her. There were a lot like that. Then came the shopping trip photos. These did not have the close zoom that the previous ones had. These shots also were slightly burly.
"Wow, you have a lot of photos of us." She told the little girl who smiled broadly.
"You are my favorite tributes!" she told Katniss.
"They are victors." The little boy snapped. "She wants you to be in love again so she can watch more kissing. Kissing is gross."
"No fighting children." Said their mother. "Only bad children in the districts fight, we behave like civilized people."
Katniss felt her smile fall. She was fine with the children but putting up with these adults was the worst. And even thought the little girl had been asking where Cato was for different reasons Katniss couldn't help but wonder herself. Having him here might have made today tolerable.
"You made it worse." Accused Haymitch. He was having a fight with Cinna, or rather Haymitch was having a fight at Cinna who was paying no attention to the drunk. Cato was along for the ride. Also he wanted to make sure that is points were raised.
"I have done so such thing." Cinna was sketching at the table. Haymitch paced back in forth in front of the table. Cato had taken a ringside seat on the sofa facing them.
"Oh really, have you seen the photos that came out today?" The photos were the reason Cato was here. He had been used, he knew that now. The plan Cinna had been implementing yesterday was much grander than he originally thought.
Bright and early this morning photos hit the feeds of Katniss and his shopping trip. Most of them where more of the same and maybe even less so because of the distance between them in most shots. But the ones that had brought Cato up where from the stores. Some one had taken the photos from outside the store and they were not as clear as the others but some things were clear.
Katniss was in sexy dresses and Cato was watching her intently. The feeds were going mad. First he buys her expensive jewelry and now picks out her wardrobe. Some seemed to be under the impression he was a controlling lover, others thought he just like to be a part of things. But no matter what every one seemed to be under the impression they were lovers.
"Yes and they look lovely. Not to mention Cato seems to have caught on to using the proper hair products." Cinna said with a smile. Cato said nothing.
"The whole city thinks they are some kind of twisted couple!" Haymitch shouted. Cato wondered briefly if Haymitch used the word twisted because of him, he was probably right.
"Exactly." Cinna went back to sketching.
"Why would you want that? Haymitch waved his arms madly.
"Because it will protect her." Cinna said seriously. Haymitch stopped paced and looked at the other man. Cato paid more attention. Cinna continued. "Katniss is a beautiful girl but on top of that she made her self very memorable. She did things in that arena that no one has ever done before. She is a high priced commodity to them. She is underage but that didn't matter to some of them."
"So you helped invent this romance?" Haymitch sounded a lot calmer now.
"In a way yes. The foundation was there I just changed the perspective on a few things. Now Katniss is off the roster, she won't be sold because some one has already bought her." Cinna was sincere.
"And they punish me for it." Cato added.
"Oh?" Cinna asked.
"They have locked him out of the gym and taken all of his possessions." Haymitch answer for him, Cato didn't like that.
"All the ones that mattered anyway." His brainteasers were all gone. So was most anything that was a weapon or could be used to train. They were cutting him off from his outlets. They wanted him to go insane again because then they could control him again.
"I had not anticipated that." Cinna looked pensive. "What do your mentors have to say about it?"
"Nothing." They were ignoring him now. Well Lyme and Enobaria were, Brutus still sat if he entered a room but didn't speak. At first he had been annoyed but then he had gotten one good look at Brutus and realized this was not something they had come up with on their own. His mentors were being ordered not to help him. No one was allowed to help him.
"Why not stay here from now on?" Cinna offered.
"Where?" Cato was sure he had seen all the rooms in this apartment, but then again it was the penthouse.
"Well there is Peeta's old…" Cinna began.
"No." Cato intrupted. "I don't sleep in dead kid's beds."
"Then how did you sleep this year?" Haymitch asked confused. "Or the year before?"
"I burned the mattress and slept on the floor until they replaced it." Cato told the truth. When he had volunteered he had burned the old bed, and the same when they brought him back this year.
"You take things too far some times charming. You could have just asked for a new bed." Haymitch shook his head but Cato just shrugged.
"Well then I suppose the only other option is the empty one next to Katniss that is reserved for the female mentor." Cinna explained.
"Won't that make things worse?" Cato asked. Living in the same apartment would give certain impressions.
"Depends on what you consider worse." Cinna looked at Haymitch. "It will strength in the rumors and protect them better. The more real it seems the less blow back there will be."
"Well then why not make them sleep in the same room?" Haymitch snorted.
"No!" Cato jumped up and said at the same moment Cinna said "Maybe."
"I was joking." Haymitch said to Cato and then turned to Cinna. "You sir, scare me."
With that the conversation was apparently over because Haymitch went off and found a drink. Cato stayed while Cinna went back to sketching.
"There is more to it than that." Cato stated. "You didn't tell him everything."
"Yes. Just like there is more to you that you don't tell." Cinna didn't even look up from his work. Cato seeing that this battle was not going to be won or lost left the room. He might as well find his new room and have his clothes transferred. He idly wondered what Katniss would do when she found out about the new sleeping arrangements.
Chapter 20: Nightmares
Some one was screaming. It woke her up. But once Katniss was awake she realized she was the one who was screaming. She had been dreaming and like in so many of her dreams it ended badly. They started off fine, better than fine really. She was home and happy. Prim was there with her goat and mother was working in the kitchen. Gale would be waiting outside but when she went to leave the house Peeta would stop her and give her a kiss goodbye.
She would go hunting and Gale and her would enjoy the woods. Then came the hovercraft. She ran home but it was too late. Prim and mother were dead or gone some times both and Peeta was injured trying to hold on so he could see her one last time. Tonight he had called her name but she hadn't made it in time. These days she never made it in time.
The door slammed open before Katniss could even get herself under control. She was still sobbing and shaking when Cato stood over her holding a knife. It was one of those knives that they put in the arena and they reminded her of Clove, which only made Katniss sob harder.
She wanted to stop, she had to stop. Crying was for children or the weak. She wasn't either, not anymore. Katniss didn't want to cry in front of Cato. She didn't want to cry in front of anyone.
Cato stood there for a moment looking confused. It would have been funny if she wasn't so sad. He wasn't even wearing a shirt. In fact Katniss thought that he might be only in the lose underwear she had heard was popular in the Capitol. Boxer briefs or something like that.
"I heard screaming." He said like it would help. It didn't. Katniss pulled her knees up and buried her face in the blanket.
"What are you even doing here?" Katniss asked. How had he gotten here in the middle of the night in nothing but his underwear?
"I sleep next door." Cato answered and Katniss heard a clank that must have been the knife hitting the floor.
"Since when?" She didn't bother to look up. What was that going to do? Just show him her red puffy face and he had nothing he could do for her.
"Today. They don't want me down stairs anymore." He admitted. Katniss eventually felt the bed dip so he must have sat down on the edge near her. "Did they die in front of you?" He asks after a minute.
"Yes." She mumbled into the blanket.
"In a few months that goes away. Then you just don't see them at all." He scouted onto the bed until he was leaning against the headboard next to her.
"Then they come back and live in your dreams unharmed. They are just there, and they are happy. But it hurts worse because when you wake up you remember that they are gone and that the world is grey and bleak and that you are alone in the fight." Cato sounded sure and maybe fore the first time ever there was no confusion or uncertainty in his voice. Here now, he knew what he was talking about. This was what he knew about.
"How do you live with it?" Katniss wasn't sure that she could.
"You do it because you know they would hate you if you gave up. You go on to spite the bastards that did this to us, to them." He paused. "And you only let it get to you at night."
"And what if I don't want to be a mess every time the sun goes down?"
"I used to train at night." The fact that he couldn't anymore hung in the air. They had locked out her code when they realized he was using it. Katniss wondered what it was doing to him, being unable to do the only thing that made him feel better.
"So I make this up as I go?" Katniss was feeling a bit better. Not being completely alone was better than it had been alone every previous night.
"In the barracks they would let you clean weapons if you couldn't sleep or the older boys would throw things." Cato offered.
"Barracks?" Katniss was confused. "That's what they call where soldiers sleep."
"You move to the Barracks at six if you pass the initial tests." Cato was rubbing his knuckles but the rest of him was perfectly still. This was perhaps the most relaxed she had ever seen him.
"That's years before you are eligible to be reaped." Six, you could barely put a bow in a six year olds hands.
"The idea is to isolate early. If we have fewer attachments we are in a better position to turn on allies in the games. It also means that if a twelve year old is reaped and the older kids aren't picked properly they still have a chance." Cato kept going. "Not everyone goes into the program, there aren't the funds or the teachers for that. You have to test in, but still parents coach their kids early so they can pass the tests."
"What are the tests like?" She wanted him to keep talking. It all faded away when she was listening.
"They are change all the time but a few things are constant. They look for the kids that have good growth rates, but don't rule out the smaller kids. They just need to be progressing in the proper percentile. They check your teeth too; they want kids to have all their teeth. Oh and they don't want any ugly kids either."
"Really?" Katniss was shocked.
"Nope. There was the one boy in my year, best killer I had ever seen and he wasn't in the program because he didn't have the look. He had some kind of skin condition that made him bumpy. They rejected him when it started showing."
"That's silly." Katniss mumbled.
"Not really. The capitol loves beauty. They sent Maze more gifts than Marvel this year. One doesn't have the same restrictions on looks that Two does. Some argue they suffer for it."
"Glimmer was beautiful." Katniss said sadly, and she had killed her.
"Well there are always exceptions." Cato fell silent and Katniss didn't particularly like the quiet.
"What about training and the barracks?"
"They made us all sleep together, well all the boys. Six year olds had bunks next to eighteen year olds. The idea was to get used to the enemy in all shapes. But it meant that no one slept well. The older boys are always closer to the games and are restless all the time. The younger boys cry. The middle boys make jokes all the time because they don't get it yet. It really is just a game to them.
"Training is the worst part. They beat you up until you can't move and when you are broken physically they break you mentally. You run for twenty-four hours straight and then when you can't stand it a moment longer they have an instructor attack you. If you can land a blow or mark them with fake knives you can sleep. If you can't they put you in the ring with the bigger kids until you pass out.
"When you wake up they make you watch the vids the capitol makes and some of their own. You watch until you beg to be put back in training. By the time you are thirteen you only need on vid before you are begging to go back to training. It's easier to take a hit than it is to put up with that shit."
"Is that why you keep fighting? Because it's easier?" Katniss asked putting something together in her mind.
"Its all I can do. All I know how to do." Cato answered.
"Maybe its time you learned something new." Katniss offered quietly.
"Maybe." Cato whispered back.
Katniss felt herself falling asleep but made no indication to Cato that she would not be a part of the conversation for much longer. She just closed her eyes and let her mind turn off.
This time when she woke up it was slow and easy. But she didn't know where she was for a moment. There was something warm against her back and it confused her because Prim always slept snuggled into Katniss's front. She rolled to see what it was and found Cato exactly where he had been hours before.
His massive arms were folded over his bare chest and his head hung slightly to one side in sleep. He was still completely propped against the headboard and on top of the covers. But he was still there just the same, unmoved.
Her breath must have woke him because his eyes snapped open and he scanned the room stopping on her in seconds. He didn't smile the way Peeta had in the mornings he just blinked and waited. If I didn't know he was a person some times I would swear he was made out of stone.
"You stayed." She said useless.
"You slept." Katniss nodded, she had not been woken with nightmares. It was the first time since the games she had not screamed in her sleep and the first time since before the games that she had not woken suddenly in fear. He looked out at the window. "Breakfast will be soon." Then he left.
Katniss lay in bed for a while thinking. She thought about those she had lost, those who haunted her. She thought about what she wanted to do now, how she wanted to go on. But mostly she thought about how she realized she trusted Cato. She knew nothing about him but she trusted him, because a hunter doesn't sleep by some one they don't trust.
And she thought about the fact that clearly he trusted her. He had told her secrets, because that's what they were. He had used the wrong pronoun but he had been talking about himself. He had told her about his dreams in so many words. They had slept next to each other completely unarmed and something about that felt intimate.
Katniss resolved to say nothing. To do nothing. This night was their secret just as that night on the roof was, because if people knew they would think differently about each of them and they couldn't have that.
She got dressed and headed out for another day of Capitol nonsense. But right before she left the room she noticed the knife still lying next to the bed. Katniss picked it up and placed in on the bedside table. Then she left.
Chapter 21: Bromance
"What are we doing?" Cato demanded. Haymitch had been hoping the boy would just let him handle things for a little while but then again monster mash never let him handle anything. Haymitch wasn't sure yet if he liked that trait in the kid.
"Hobby hunting." Haymitch answered. He didn't see why this was confusing.
"You made that up." Cato accused.
"Yes, yes I did. But charming you are a menace and we need to find something for you to do." Haymitch set down the third box. He had asked the Avoxes to find nearly every hobby they could find or was stored in the computers and then bring them parts of it. "Open the first box and have a go."
Cato rolled his eyes and opened the box anyway. He held up the first item and looked at it. It was a pole that was collapsed in half. Cato fiddled with it until its snapped hole and they could see that a near invisible string hung at the end.
"I don't get it." Cato turned to Haymitch with a blank face. This was going to be harder than he thought.
"It's a fishing pole. You fish with it." Haymitch explained.
"I use a spear for that." Cato clearly didn't get the idea here.
"Okay, no to fishing." Haymitch pulled the next thing out of the box. "What about these?" Haymitch handed Cato a stiff folder.
"What do you do with them?" Cato turned the folder over and shook it making a few of the coins fall out.
"You collect them." Haymitch tried to explain.
"To what end?" Cato picked on up and tried throwing it at a near by wall. The coin imbedded its self in the wallpaper.
"No. No throwing the coins." Haymitch took the folder back. He handed Cato the next thing. Cato shuffled the deck of cards around and then laid them out on the table after a few minutes of arranging the cards by color and then by descending numerical value and shredding the cards with people on them he looked at Haymitch in confusion. "We can try cards another time." Need to remember to tell him not to pull things apart.
"Here try box two." Haymitch handed the box to Cato before he could start tarring apart any more of the play cards. There was only one thing in this box and Haymitch hoped that maybe this one would work.
Cato opened the box containing the engine and manuals and looked blankly at them for several seconds. Then as if he put something together Cato picked up on of the pieces and started twirling it in his hands. He pulled apart the moving parts that he could dismantle and then tried to put them back.
"What is this?" He asked going for the next part and moving it around as well.
"Its parts of a car engine." Haymitch told him. Cato nodded and made a face that might have been saying 'not bad.' Haymitch let out a sigh of relief; maybe they wouldn't have to move on to the board games.
He didn't even say anything when Cato upturned the entire box on the glass dinning room table. Cato started to organize completely ignoring the manuals. Well at least he would need to spend a decent amount of time on it before he figured out how it worked completely.
He was just getting the hang of the parts and how they worked together. It wasn't quite a brainteaser, there was more of a goal at the end with the engine. He connected a few parts and tried again twisting the thing he thought turned it on.
There was an explosion of black fluid from many of the openings. It covered him and most of the room in the goo. Cato stood there partly confused and partly unsure what to do now.
"I think I broke it." He said when Haymitch walked back in and dropped his drink in surprise.
"I think you did too." Haymitch started laughing and Cato felt himself smile. It was pretty funny actually. Effie was going to throw a fit when she saw the room. And at least here there was no threat of being beaten for this mistake so it wasn't that dangerous.
"Maybe you should take a break from the car engine for a while." Haymitch laughed. "Perhaps something less dangerous."
"Like what?" Cato was pretty sure everything that had come in those boxes was dangerous. So far he had either done something wrong or broke it, and some times both.
"We could have a little land war." Haymitch suggested holding up a strange box. Cato smiled, he could handle a land war.
She screamed when she returned to the apartment. It was ruined. The dinning room was smeared with grease and covered in mental parts that she had never seen before. Coins stuck out from the walls in a few places and torn playing cards lay in the hallway.
Cato and Haymitch were laying on their stomachs with some brightly colored board between them covered in tiny figures. They looked up at her in confusion. To make matters worse Cato was covered in the grease and laying on the pink carpet staining it completely. And Haymitch quickly ignored her and went back to moving some figures on the board.
"What happened? What did you do?" Effie screamed at them.
"Well there were some failed attempts and then we tried to build an engine and now we are playing some retro game called Risk." Haymitch didn't even bother to look at her.
"And you needed to destroy the table to do that?" Effie demanded.
"That was Cato's fault." Haymitch pointed at the boy. Cato completely forgetting his manners threw a piece from the game at Haymitch. "I am counting that as a forfeit and shall now take Papua New Guinea from you."
Effie couldn't take it a moment longer. She dashed to her room but not before ordering the Avoxes to clean up everything and buy a new table. Effie would not be eating on that filthy piece of glass ever again.
Chapter 22: Double Feature
She was going to burn the stupid heels. They would die a firey death and she would throw their ashes over the roof just to spit the capitol. She was half crawling half dragging herself back into the apartment in exhaustion. Today she had taken photos with people. They got to stand next to her and smile and say they had a photo with the girl on fire. She wanted to burn the dress as well and maybe if she could set herself on fire to get the stink of the capitol off her.
She paused when she heard what she thought was a woman crying. Katniss moved to where the sound was and found it was coming from the screen. It appeared to be some kind of drama or something where a woman cried a lot. Or at least that's all that was on the screen right now. Katniss was confused. She was even more confused when the person watching this was Cato.
Cato was sitting on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn watching intently. He had a notebook sitting next to him and there was a pen there as well. The girl kept crying but then some one came over and wrapped an arm around her and he picked up the pen scribbling something down.
"What are you watching?" Katniss said standing behind the sofa.
"It's called a romantic comedy, it's a popular genre of movie." Cato put a handful of popcorn in his mouth.
"Yes but why are you watching it?" This was the strangest thing to see after such a long day. She just wanted to shower and go to sleep but instead she was standing there watching him.
"Cinna told me to watch two a night." Cato scribbled down another note. "He said I needed to take notes."
"Why?" Katniss was now officially more than confused.
"I have no idea. But Haymitch mutter something about people skills." That brought back a moment from before the games when Haymitch had said she had the people skills of a slug. Maybe she should watch them as well.
"He says the same thing about me." Katniss admitted when two beautiful people started laughing together. "Maybe I need to see these as well." It couldn't hurt and frankly Katniss never got to see anything on the feeds besides the Hunger Games. Who know maybe she would like it. "I am going to shower first."
"I'll pause it if you want." Cato offered and Katniss nodded. She headed back to her room but didn't rush. She wasn't going to rush through the shower, although she did tear the dress off her to the point that it ripped. Thankfully the dress was not a Cinn creation so she didn't feel as bad or that bad when the heels knocked down some of the clothes in the closet.
Katniss even went so far as to sit down in the shower to rub her feet and check the blisters. It was going to be a rough morning with that many covering her feet. She found soft socks in the closet when she got out and slipped them on. Katniss also hunted for clothes that didn't feel like they were fresh out of the store. She did find a long sleeved shirt eventually at the back and a pair of shorts that felt lived in. She slipped into them and padded back into the living room.
Cato was in the same spot but looked like he had gotten more popcorn because the bowl was now completely full instead. Katniss came over and sat next to him and pulled her legs up to her chest. He picked up the remote and turned the movie on again.
"Popcorn?" He held the bowl to her in offering.
"Thanks." Katniss took a handful but rather than shovel it into her mouth the way Cato did she picked them up a couple at a time to her mouth. "What's going on anyway?"
"The blond woman seems to be the lead. She says she wants to marry this guy who I believe is her boss, but he doesn't pay attention to her. Another guy has come a long and he seems to fit her previous descriptions of a perfect mate but she is ignoring him. Then there is something going on with the sister but I don't understand that part at all." Cato had to look at his notes.
"I don't get it." Katniss really didn't. How was any of this supposed to help with people skills? It was stupid and the women kept crying and doing nothing. Katniss wanted to slap them and shake them and maybe with the red head throw a spear at her. Is this really what women who weren't starving did?
"It's called a love triangle." Cato tried. Katniss looked at him blankly, he shrugged. "Cinna told me to pay attention to how they acted and not so much the plot. Then mumbled something about pretending to be a real boy. "
"Why does she keep crying?" Katniss wished she had her bow, which would stop the stupid crying.
"She is sad she doesn't have a boyfriend." Cato said between mouthfuls of popcorn.
"What is a boyfriend?" That was a strange term. Did it mean a boy that was her friend? Because if it did then clearly the woman had many. All of these people seemed so weak and boring.
"It seems to mean a state of relationship that is similar to lovers but not the same." Cato scrunched up his face in disgust and Katniss chuckled a little bit. "I don't see the point. As long as there isn't a family unit or offspring what is the point in giving it a name?" When he realized that Katniss was staring at him he turned. "What?"
"Offspring?" Katniss was trying not to laugh.
"Should I have said children? Normal people say children." He nodded and then made a note. Katniss snorted. Cato glared at her. They went back to watching the movie. They only made it a few minutes before another outburst.
"What is that?" Cato asked this time.
"I would say that is supposed to be dancing." Katniss offered.
"What's dancing?" Cato asked seriously which only made Katniss want to laugh. How did one explain dancing to some one who had no experience or idea what it is.
"It's supposed to be a bit like hand to hand combat only the goal it to get the other person to like you." Katniss said hopelessly.
"Why would that work?" He had a point.
"I have no idea." It was the truth. She had seen some dancing before but still had no idea why it worked. "That's a lot of kissing."
"They are going to have sex in a few minutes." Cato told her.
"Why do you know that?"
"Haymitch warned me when the sex scenes were. He thought I would like to know ahead of time. I don't see why though." Katniss didn't either. It seemed like a strange thing for Haymitch to do. Then again Haymitch tended to do things for reasons he could only see.
They sat through the sex scene. But Cato kept making a strange face and eventually Katniss needed to know what it was about.
"What is that face for?"
"I think they are doing it wrong." He shook his head as the couple on screen kept talking about their emotions as they took off their clothes. Katniss was laughing before she knew it. A burst of sound simply exploded from her and she was left holding her side. Cato of course looked at her blankly but that only made it worse and she was panting and on the floor before she could stop.
"Are you done?" He asked with a raised eyebrow but she could see laughter in his eyes and a quirk of a smile on his lips.
"I think so." She climbed back onto the couch. They ate popcorn in silence until the movie was over.
"That was stupid." Cato said as the credit rolled.
"Yes." Katniss agreed. Then she paused and thought about it for a moment. "Want to watch the next one?"
"Yes." Cato said with a smile. He pressed a few buttons and the next one came one. This one had an even sillier premise about trying to find love by a certain age. Or something about a special day of the year, frankly Katniss was confused.
Despite the stupid movie Katniss was having fun. She was tired and wanted to go home desperately but this wasn't so bad. Cato was actually fun to be around. He didn't pry the way some people wanted to, nor did he want to talk often. He made funny faces when things confused or upset him but her rarely vocalized these emotions.
She started watching him, trying to catch the play of emotions across his face. His brows would draw together when he was puzzling something over but true confusion involved them going up as well as together. When something seemed to make sense but he was considering it the edges of his lips would turn down as if in a frown. When something truly bothered or annoyed him his nose would twitch for just a second as if he had smelled something horrible.
Katniss wondered what he looked like when he smiled. She wondered if he ever really smiled. He had no real childhood to speak of and she was beginning to guess no family either. What does a boy with no home or family do to be happy? She wondered.
"Do girls really like that?" Cato asked suddenly. He was pointed at the screen and it showed a girl tucked against a guy while watching a movie.
"I have no idea. I have never tried sitting like that." Katniss hadn't. She had slept with Peeta in the sleeping bag and would sit near Gale but that exact position she had never tried. "Let me see if it's comfortable."
She didn't know what was possessing her but she lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. Katniss copied the girl on screen and laid her head against Cato's peck. It actually wasn't that bad. Cato was warm and she could hear his thundering heart beat beneath her ear. Briefly Katniss realized that besides a few brief hugs from Haymitch and Cinna that no one had held her in a while. She missed that contact.
"You are higher on my chest than she is." Cato pointed out after a moment.
"You have more muscle than he does." Katniss was telling the truth. To get the exact stop that the girl on the screen had Cato would have to get rid of his pecks, the ridge they created was exactly the stop the girl was using on screen. Cato did a slight head tilt that Katniss was now associating with his 'weighting the facts' face.
"True." And then neither of them said anything else. Katniss thought about moving but she didn't. She was just so tired of having her guard up. She was tired in general and the steady thump of Cato's heart sounded familiar. It was the thump she felt with Prim or Gale or Peeta. So she closed her eyes and thought of home.
She was asleep. He had checked her breathing a few times now and it was definitely even. The movie had ended but he was hesitant to move. Cato hadn't looked at her last night. He had been there to make sure the nightmares stayed away, not to witness her weakness. She wouldn't have wanted him to pay too much attention to the red in her eyes or how puffy her face got.
But tonight she hadn't exposed weakness so there was no harm in looking at her. Katniss' hair brushed over his arm making it itch and tingle. He reached up and combed the strands. Her hair fascinated him; it was such a strange color. No one had hair like her in District Two.
When she was sleeping like this she was the girl on fire again. Radiant and bright even in darkness. That light had been gone since the first day of the games. He had hated that. Cato had started this all for her, because she was different. Because she was special. That hadn't changed but some of what made Katniss who she was had died in the arena with those children.
That was the reason he was doing all of it. He wanted to fix her. Put her back together so that she was whole and radiant again. So he did things he never did. He talked to people he barely knew. He went shopping. He tried to find a hobby. He watched movies about love. Because if she could be fixed maybe just maybe there was hope for him.
Cato wrapped his arm around her and pulled Katniss closer to him. He didn't want her to get cold. Seeing nothing better to do he turned on the next movie. But his eyes were dropping before he had even made it to the opening title and by the time the heroine made her entrance Cato was fast asleep with Katniss tucked next to him.
He was looking for a drink. The noise of a woman laughing distracted him to the living room. Haymitch was not expecting what he found there. They looked peaceful. They looked safe. They looked happy.
So he gave them that. He turned off the movie and found a blanket. Haymitch laid it across them. Cato stirred but didn't wake. The boy pulled Katniss closer and leaned his face into her hair. She let out a soft sigh.
They deserve it. He thought. Please let them keep.
Chapter 23: The Train
He woke up first. It was a strange wake up. Normally one minute he was sleeping and the next he was wide-awake and ready to move. His eyes blinked slowly and he felt the need to stretch and pull the blankets up. Then he felt the heat next to him. He tensed expecting something other than what he saw when he looked.
Katniss was curled on top of him. They were still sitting on the sofa but now there was a blanket over them. That bothered Cato, he hadn't woken up to do it so that meant that some one had stood near him while he slept. That was unacceptable; he could be killed for such recklessness.
Then suddenly he remembered, no one was trying to kill him. No one was going to try and kill him again. He was safe. The games were over, for him.
Hearing noise in the rest of the apartment Cato lifted Katniss off him and laid her back down on the sofa. She groaned and made a sad noise in the back of her throat. But she stayed asleep. Haymitch walked past just as Cato was leaving the room.
"Sleeping beauty awakens!" He smiled. Cato said nothing and headed to his room.
They were leaving today. He was pretty sure the other mentors had all gone home by now. Brutus would still be around because he lived in the Capitol. But Cato didn't hang out with him when the games weren't going on.
He would have nothing to do now. They had promised not to sedate him when the games were over. Now he wondered if maybe Haymitch had been trying for more than just sanity of the group when he tried to help him find a hobby. He could try again on the car engine. He could probably build a whole car by the time they all came back for the victory tour.
Cato got dressed ignoring the clutter and mess of his room. He wouldn't be coming back here any time soon. He would be going to his tiny personal apartment. He didn't go back to District Two there was no point. No one there wanted him. His parents were not people he knew or remembered and they were always strange around him. He had no friends.
No that wasn't true. Haymitch was his friend. Katniss was his friend. Cinna might be is friend. But they were leaving. Well Cinna would stay but he was the person Cato was the least comfortable with.
It would be fine though. He would be fine. He had always been alone. Six months was a drop in the bucket. He looked in the mirror to make sure his face was blank. Confirming that he back to himself he walked out to breakfast.
The others were already eating when he came out. Haymitch spooned large amounts of eggs into his mouth while Effie and Cinna ate in dainty bites. Katniss look rumpled and half asleep but was slowly putting fruit and bread in her mouth.
"See some people understand that one should dress for meals." Effie said pointing at him. Haymitch and Katniss shrugged and kept eating. He would miss that, the way that neither of them seemed to care. Everyone cared where he came from. "You should care you are going home today Katniss. They are going to take your photo the entire morning and here you are looking like something the mutts dragged in."
"Cinna is going to work his magic again." Katniss shrugged and gave Cinna a warm smile.
"Speaking of which it is time to get packing." Cinna wiped off his mouth and stood. Katniss shoveled a few more glops of food and then followed closely behind. Haymitch stood quickly after that and Effie was gone seconds later. Cato sat there and kept eating. He was going to stay in the apartment until they left. After they were gone he would go home to his tiny apartment in the Capitol. He had already asked that the car engine be sent there.
He wasn't surprised to see Cato still at the dinning room table eating slowly. The kid really was lost on his own. It made Haymitch glad he had had that conversation with Brutus yesterday.
"Abernathy." Brutus greeted Haymitch at the front of the apartment. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Oh don't be rude Brutus. You hate me." Haymitch sighed and squeezed past the larger man into the apartment. "I'm here about Cato."
"What about him?" Brutus had tensed up and crossed his arms. He was expecting bad news.
"I want to take him with us." Haymitch charged into this head first.
"Why?" Brutus relaxed but just marginally.
"He is better, saner in our group." Haymitch told the truth but left out that he thought it was mostly Katniss' influence.
"You mean he is almost human around the little slut." Brutus growled.
"See I knew you hated us. But the point is he isn't sedated any longer. In fact he touches people and lets them touch him." Cato had taken to playfully punch or pushing Haymitch these days instead of the death glare.
"He was letting us touch him here." Brutus said but Haymitch could tell the heat was gone.
"Was he cuddling with any of you?" Haymitch quirked an eyebrow to drive home the point. Brutus kept his face under control but Haymitch read the surprise in his eyes.
"It's never been done before." Was all Brutus said this time.
"Is he still considered a District Two citizen?" That would be the only real hindrance. If that were true it would require express permission from some very nasty people for Cato to get on that train with them.
"No he is a Capitol card holder. He wont step foot in Two." That would make things easier at least.
"So now you just have to give permission." Haymitch smiled.
"He is eighteen he is free to do as he likes." Brutus didn't look happy about the situation.
"We both know that isn't true. You control his life until he falls in line." Haymitch said speaking the secret the younger ones were not privy to.
"And how would this keep him in line? So far all he has done since he saw that gutter rat is step out of line. It wont be long before the consequences of his actions reach myself." Brutus looked furious now.
"Drop the act. You care about him and want him happy just as much as I do, if not more." Haymitch was getting bored these type of people where never a challenge.
"What makes you say that?" Brutus looked confused.
"The capitol keeps very through birth records. You can trace entire family trees. Its really quite easy to find that the most recent victor is another victor's third cousin twice removed." Haymitch shrugged. "Its also quiet easy to realize that Cato received more gifts than the past six years tributes combined. Sure he had some of the roughest games in a decade but he got decent gifts. And you do of course know that past games sponsorship records become public." Haymitch smiled. He had Brutus by the short and curlies.
"What would you do with him in that pig sty you call a District?" Brutus was stoney, positively statue like. Haymitch was beginning to see the family resemblances more.
"He would stay in the Victors Village with me for the time being. I was going to see about getting him working. He could clean and update the weapons for the Peace Keepers and he is getting better with the car engine."
"I don't know." Brutus began.
"The alternative being what? He goes back to the closet of an apartment he bought and stays there for six months maybe more. You already said he wont go back to Two." Haymitch tried for something close to sincere. "You might as well sedate him again if you do that."
"If I give my permission I want status reports. I need to know you aren't letting him run around with her all the time doing nothing. He is not there for your or her amusement." Brutus snapped. "And if I hear about your gutter rats making trouble for him he comes back."
"I don't find that unreasonable." Haymitch thought it was much better than he had expected Brutus to demand at this point.
"Bring him back fixed Abenathy or I will strangle you in your sleep myself." Brutus threatened and then stormed off.
"I think he likes me." Haymitch said letting himself out of the apartment.
Now he was struggling with how to Cato on the train. He wasn't exactly sure how the boy would take it. True monster mash had been extremely well behaved for the past could of days, if you ignored the thing with the coins and the car engine of course. But would he even want to go.
"Charming what are you doing? Shouldn't you be packing?" Haymitch walked back in and grabbed a roll.
"I have things at my apartment." The boy said stoically.
"I'm talking about the train. You don't want to bring anything with you? I mean I suppose you can wear some of my clothes but I don't think they will fit. Not that the girls will mind." Haymitch started in on the boy.
"What are you going on about?" Cato looked annoyed. Well at least nothing was being thrown at Haymitch's head yet.
"Well if you don't pack anything what are you going to wear in District Twelve? We don't have the fancy closets there." Haymitch said it casually but this was the moment of truth. For the briefest moments a smile flashed across Cato's face and then it was gone.
"I will be packed by the time we depart." It was hard to hear but there was a smile in that. Haymitch knew then he had done the right thing. Damn the consequence.
It felt like a pressure was released the moment she stepped onto the train. Then she looked around to see it was the same train, the one that had brought her here. The one that had taken Peeta to his death. She wanted to hyperventilate right there. Her breath stung in her lungs.
Would it always be this way? Would she always feel this pain and panic when she encountered things that reminded her of him? She hated the way it made her feel, the weakness it exposed in her and yet she craved it. When she felt that crushing ache she knew she was alive and it made her keep going.
Katniss was just getting herself under control when some one she was not expecting walked through the cabin. Cato looked around like he had never seen the place. That surprised her, Katniss had just assumed all these trains were exactly the same.
"Are we talking you home to District Two?" She asked as he moved around a table giving it a glare of disgust.
"No." He answered, before maybe Katniss would have been confused by that. It didn't give a lot of information when other people spoke but Cato had an odd way of answering more than one question at once. She heard the other answer there, yes he was coming to twelve.
"Where are you going to be staying?" Where would he be staying? Sure there were plenty of houses in the Victors Village but was he even allowed to have one as he was a victor from another district.
"With Haymitch." Finding a chair that did not totally offend him Cato took a seat near by.
"That should be fun." Katniss offered. Cato was going to be her neighbor. Something about that knowledge settled some of her nerves about going home. She felt another layer of pressure dissipate. With each mile they pass she grew closer to the things she knew and she got closer to being her old self.
"Maybe." Cato shrugged and looked out the window.
So they sat there in silence as Katniss tried to remember the person she used to be. But even as she pulled her old self out of the depths of her soul she felt the weight of the arrows on her arms and they anchored her memories and kept the old her at bay. By the time Effie came to collect them for dinner Katniss was almost back to the person she used to be, except that there were holes in her old self now and those holes were being filled with things she didn't know or understand.
She realized Cato was standing and waiting for her. Effie had left but he watched her, waiting for her to be ready for dinner. He never rushed her. She liked that.
"Together?" He asked and Katniss heard the whole question that was being asked. 'Would you like to go to dinner together? Do you want me to wait?' She smiled because she was getting a better grasp on the way Cato spoke.
"Together." She agreed and stood from her chair. They walked to the dinning car.
He heard the other answer she gave him. 'We can get through it together.' He smiled.
Chapter 24: Homecoming
It hurts waiting. She can barely keep herself still as the train slows and she sees the familiar outlines of buildings. There are cameras waiting of course but Katniss didn't care because there was Prim and Gale and mother and she was home.
She stood and waved for the required amount of time for a photo to be taken and then ran at her sister. She scooped the little girl up into her arms and swung her around with joy.
"I knew you could do it!" Prim said excitedly. "I knew you would come home." Then there was her mother in a crushing hug and Katniss felt tears at her eyes and on her shirt.
Katniss had a second to breathe before Gale enclosed on her. It was perhaps the hardest hug of all to endure because there were unsaid things in that hug that would hurt them. The games would hurt all her loved ones no matter what she did.
But for this glorious moment none of it mattered. None of it bothered Katniss in this shinning moment of her friends and family. Madge even came to give Katniss a huge hug. She felt bad instantly because she had completely forgotten about Madge until that moment.
Then other people from the seam were there and they wanted a turn to hug and thank the girl that would be effectively feeding them for the year. And they wanted to tell her they were sorry.
He stayed back by the train with Haymitch while Katniss was swept up in a wave of people. It was clear that everyone here wanted to see her. It was also clear that everyone here was truly glad she was home. This was not the stale and impersonal welcome he had received, this was a real home coming.
A small blond girl detached her self from the group and came over to stand in front of Cato. He thought he recognized her and when she tilted her head back at him he saw the resemblance. This was the sister, this was Primrose.
"Are you the man that saved my sister?" She asked honestly. This little bird was nothing like the other. She had nothing of the warrior in her that her sister did.
"She saved her self." Cato told the truth.
"But you helped." She smiled a little.
"A little, yes." He admitted. Sending gifts was helping but not any real kind of help. Then the little girl did something no one had ever done, she hugged him. She only came up to half way on his chest but she gave a heartfelt squeeze. Cato had no idea how to respond to that so he did what he had seen one of them men in those movies do, he patted her head with one hand and touched her back with the other.
It seemed to be the right thing to do because when she let go she was smiling wider than before she hugged him. Some one must have noticed her absence because an older woman also broke away from the group.
"Primrose, what are you doing?" The woman asked.
"I wanted to thank Cato for saving Katniss." The girl was rather remarkable. He had never met anyone with her openness and ease of conversing. The woman looked at him worriedly. But Cato just shook his head and tried for a smile.
"She is very sweet." He had heard that in the movies. Girls liked being called sweet, well at least the ones that were. No one should ever think about calling Katniss sweet, she might gut them, and he would watch.
"He is nice mom." Primrose reached up with her little hand and grabbed his larger one. Cato made and effort not to grip too tightly but she said nothing so he must have been doing it right. She dragged him forward towards her mother.
"Thank you." The mother said with a watery smile.
"I didn't do anything special." Cato felt eyes on him here, different eyes. These eyes were not the eyes of the Capitol citizens, indifferent and bored. These eyes cared and felt things he had only heard about. You wanted to come. Remember you wanted this.
"Yes you did!" Prim must never stop smiling. "No one from your district has ever helped anyone from ours."
"I don't see why that matters." Cato blinked at her.
"I told you he was nice." Primrose told her mother with a little hop and a bounce. The mother smiled. Some one else noticed. The boy removed himself from the crowd surrounding Katniss and made his way to their group.
He was the one from the reaping, and the stories. Gale something. He had similar coloring as Katniss and his stride matched hers. Cato knew almost instantly that they were hunting partners. Their movements were too identical to be anything else.
"What are you doing here?" He asked Cato.
"Gale!" Primrose sounded shocked.
"Haymitch asked me to come." It was the truth.
"To do what?" Gale snapped. Cato realized he was being interrogated. It wasn't something new he just hadn't expected it here. He had expected hatred or indifference and maybe loathing. But interrogation suggested something else entirely.
"Fix an engine and train." Haymitch had explained that he wanted Cato to be able to be useful, so he would have some time for his hobby but other times he would work with some of the children getting them prepared for the possibility of being reaped. Haymitch had even said that the children from the poorest family would get the most training. Cato didn't understand why that was important but he agreed.
"Train?" Gale had taken a defensive stance.
"The ones most likely to be picked. Haymitch used the word Seam." Cato offered. That did something though, Gale dropped the stance. He didn't back down or leave right away but this was no longer the confrontation he had imagined.
"Be nice Gale. Cato saved Katniss." Primrose stomped one tiny foot and Cato had to try very hard not to smile. She was incredible.
"Sorry Prim, I will be nice." Gale gave the girl a big smile but something in his eyes didn't connect to the expression. He doesn't like me. That's fine. I didn't think any of them would.
"Prim?" Katniss called out as the crowd thinned.
"Here!" She pipped up. Katniss came over looking happy but tired. "Want to see our new house?" Prim asked excitedly.
"Of course little duck." Katniss gave her sister a small smile that made the girl bloom.
"Let's go!" Primrose started walking, never letting go of Cato's hand. He had to keep his steps short and pause between them so that they walked at the same pace but she talked to him like it was nothing. "You are going to live next to us. Mom wasn't sure about living next to Haymitch at first but he is the only other one there so of course we are going to live next to him."
"Of course." Cato imposed at the right moment. She nodded at him.
"It's no fun without neighbors." Primrose gave him another smile. I get it. Why she volunteered.
"No fun at all." Cato agreed. So he walked with this perfect lovely incredible girl to her new fancy home. And she talked to him like no one ever had before.
"Prim seems to like him." Katniss said somewhere behind him.
"She keeps saying he brought you home. It doesn't matter who he is to her." The mother said and Cato felt something in his throat. It was a pinch and a dryness all at once.
Chapter 25: Adjustments
The woods were the same. She was the one that was different. The same hill with the same hidden valley that was home to her and Gale but it felt wrong. She was too edgy, too off. She didn't get up earlier enough anymore on her own. She stay up too late now used to being up long past dark. And to change things more Gale was gone. Sure he still came on Sunday but now he was gone the majority of the time. And when he was here it was different.
"Hey Catnip." He would call but then he would close down. Their first conversation in the woods had not gone well.
"What was it like?" He asked their first day hunting.
"What was what like?" Katniss had to stretch before going for the bow. She was out of practice and shape. That month after the games had been too much. She had lost too much weight.
"The games." Gale tied a snare as he waited for the answer.
"It was nothing like hunting." Katniss said remembering he words to her the day she left. It felt like a lifetime ago.
"That's it? Nothing else to say?" Gale was upset but for once Katniss had no idea why.
"Not really." But what she was really saying was 'nothing I want to talk about right now.' Gale didn't hear the second part.
"So when do I get an explanation for that act you pulled with Mellark?" He snapped a twig in frustration. "Or am I supposed to believe that you really loved him like the Capitol is telling everyone?"
"Think what you want." Katniss hadn't addressed those questions to anyone. Her mother and Prim didn't ask because they could hear her crying at night. They knew the truth of it. The towns people seemed to be split but most of them were more concerned about food than to care about whether she had loved her partner.
The one ones who the truth mattered to she didn't have the guts to face. She took the long way to the forest now. Katniss never walked through town or went on groceries in the week she had been home. She wasn't ready to face his family.
"So you did love him?" Gale was in one of his moods. She could see it now. There would be no reasoning with him at this point.
"What does it matter?" She wanted to know.
"It matters." He insisted.
"No it doesn't Gale. He's dead. They killed him for no reason, just as they killed all the others. To make a point. They made their point. It doesn't matter what I felt." She wanted him to leave it alone. She wanted it to be back the way it used to be, when she was not the one his rage was directed at.
"And what about your new pet monster? What about that?" When had this become about people she spent time with?
"What about Cato?" Katniss knew he wasn't well liked in town. Or the Seam. He was avoided on principal but he hadn't seemed to notice. He had spend the first week behind Haymitch's house covered in grease trying to put together the beginnings of an engine. He would nodd at her when she came by but other wise he kept to himself.
"Are you sleeping with him?"
"Why would you ask that?" Katniss was shocked. She knew the rumors and Haymitch had explained their purpose so she didn't put much thought into them now. But clearly Gale had and now he wanted to know.
"Answer the question Katniss." He snapped.
"No Gale. We are just friends." She told him.
"Friends? With that monster?" He laughed but it was a mean laugh that sounded all wrong coming from her friend.
"He is no more a monster than I am." Katniss said quietly. Gale didn't say anything after that. They just went about hunting. She was glad she still had a few more days before he was back. Maybe this Sunday would be better. Maybe they could go back to being friends.
She liked Cato. He was quiet and kept to himself but he was nice to her. He talked to her like she was an adult and he never lied. She had stopped to see him the second day he was there after school and he had just said hello and gone back to his parts.
On the eighth day she stopped watching and started talking.
"What are you doing?" She asked looking at all the parts on the ground.
"Trying to build an engine." He said without looking at her. Her mother had said she thought it was rude that Cato never made eye contact but Prim didn't mind. He only looked at her when he had something important to say or when she said something important.
"Why?" She asked.
"I need something to do." It was the truth. But there was more he wasn't saying, Prim could tell.
"What did you do before?"
"Train for the games." He was twisting something now.
"After the games?" Prim wanted to know.
"Nothing." He sounded sad even though he didn't look sad. Cato didn't put his emotions on his face, just like Katniss. That just meant you had to look harder to see when they were sad.
"That sounds like no fun." It sounded sad and lonely.
"It was." He held something out. "Hold this." Prim took the tiny latch in her hands while he did something with the area it came from.
"Are we friends?" She asked when he reached out to take the latch from her.
"How do you define friend?" He asked back. This time he had stopped and put down the part to look at Prim. This was important.
"A friend is some one you like spending time with and trust. You can talk to a friend and tell them important things. A friend gets sad when you are sad." Cato tilted his head slightly.
"I think we are friends then." He said after a moment.
"Good, mom said I could invite a friend to dinner tonight." Prim smiled at him. She was happy when he gave her a small smile back.
Gale was wrong about him. Cato wasn't a monster. He was lonely and needed friends. Prim was going to be his friend. He wouldn't be lonely then.
He stood there in the doorway for a few minutes unsure of what to do. Katniss was not back from this day's hunting trip so he did not have her to tell him what he should be doing. Prim had skipped off to her room once in the house so that she could wash up before dinner. He saw no sign of Mrs. Everdeen anywhere.
"Cato." Katniss said from behind him. 'Did you need something?' her eyes said.
"Prim invited me to dinner." That answered both questions.
"The table is around the corner if you want to sit." Katniss said pointing. He nodded. She moved past him to the stairs. It had not been an excellent hunting day. She had only come away with half of what she wanted. He could see it in her walk and her face. It wouldn't affect their meal tonight but Gale's family would have less because of it.
"Cato, what bring you here?" Mrs. Everdeen said as she placed dinner on the table in the room.
"Prim invited me for dinner." He was started to repeat himself. But he didn't know what else to say. This was a family; it was different than the quiet dinners with Haymitch or the noisy ones back at the capitol. He was a real intruder here.
"Did she? Oh well it's a good think I was excepting you." She smiled at him and turned to leave, moments later she was back with the fourth plate. "Have a seat the girls will be down in second."
He sat down at the seat she had just put the plate and waiting. Effie had said something about being polite to wait. He wasn't that hungry but the food smelled good and he wasn't used to waiting.
"You get to sit next to me!" Prim came back into the room and happily took the chair next to him. Katniss followed a moment later now in a plain dress. She wore pants while hunting but dresses in town and at home. He wasn't sure why because she had always put pants on at night in the capitol.
They began eating once Mrs. Everdeen sat down with the glasses of water for everyone. No one said anything all the way through dinner. Cato wasn't sure if that was normal. He and Haymitch didn't really talk. Well Haymitch would talk to himself some times but Cato was pretty sure that didn't count.
"Do you mind helping clean up?" Mrs. Everdeen asked when they were finished.
"No." Cato picked up his plate and followed her into the kitchen. The girls came as well.
"What do your parents think of you moving out here with Haymicth?" Mrs. Everdeen asked as she took his plate.
"I don't know. I haven't seen them since I was six." They had been at his homecoming from the games. But he hadn't been able to tell them apart from the crowd and before he got a chance to figure it out that man had touched him. He had broken six of the man's ribs before they got him sedated.
"Why?" Prim looked heartbroken. It made him blink, why should she be sad about his parents.
"I was in training and then in the games." Cato found himself wondering if he should try to contact them. He was eighteen so legally he was an adult now but maybe he should try.
"What about after the games?" Prim asked.
"I wasn't allowed to see people after the games." And he hadn't wanted to see people. It had taken months for him to really put together that no one was trying to kill him now.
"Why not?" Prim didn't understand and Cato felt too large in the room suddenly. He could tell by Katniss' face that she didn't think he should say anything. But Prim blinked her large open eyes at him and he was unable to lie.
"I wasn't sane. I didn't understand that the games were over. I hurt those who came near me." That stopped the little girl. She thought for a second.
"They should have brought you here sooner. Mom and I could have fixed you." She gave him a bright smile.
"I am sure you would have." Cato patted the girl on her head and gave her a small smile.
When he left Katniss walked out with him. He was just next door but they stood there between the houses for a moment looking at nothing in particular. They hadn't really spoken since they got here.
"I get it." He said finally. "Why you volunteered. She is worth it."
"Yes she is." Katniss looked up at the sky. "I'm sorry about their questions."
"I don't mind." He did but at the same time didn't. If any one else asked it would be different. But this was Katniss' family and they were not the enemy. "Sorry about your friend."
"What for?" She huffed.
"He is mad I am here. He took it out on you." Cato hadn't heard the conversation but he had read it on their faces when they came back from hunting a few days ago.
"Why don't we just agree that we are both sorry about being here?" Katniss looked tired when she said it. He got the feeling that there was more there. More about how she didn't feel the same about her home now.
"I like it here." Cato said honestly. "The air is real." She laughed a little at that.
"Goodnight Katniss." He waited until she went back inside and waited until the light came on in her room. He did like it here. Freedom was closer in District Twelve. The grasp of the Capitol was some far off evil that did not sit on his shoulder.
And yet after a week here he missed the apartment. He missed being that close to the others. Here he didn't know if Katniss cried out in her sleep, and that bothered him.
Chapter 26: Running
She had finally woken up before the sun today. The air was close to freezing outside the house. Katniss stomped her feet for a moment trying to stay warm when some body ran past her. She was so shocked that it took her a minute to realize it was Cato.
He reached the end of the victor's village and then turned down the street and kept going. Katniss was shocked when she saw he was only wearing a tight tank top and shorts. He must be freezing.
Not knowing what to do about the situation she made her way to the old house where she store her better hunting gear. Katniss had just made it to the seam when she saw a flash of movement and turned to see Cato coming from the other direction. His pace had picked up.
Katniss stepped in front of his path half expecting him to eight run around her or plow into her. She was surprised when he simply slowed down and stopped less than a foot away.
"Aren't you cold?" She asked. But then she saw that he was covered in sweat. The bead of moisture ran down his face and arms creating interesting designs. His shirt was soaked through and stuck to his chest. She noticed he had lost some of the muscle definition.
"I was an hour ago." He pulled the edge of his shirt up to wipe sweat off his forehead and Katniss got a good look at his chest. Despite the bulk going away he was still every much an excellent specimen. She felt heat on her face the longer she looked.
"How long are you planning on running?" She wondered how often he had done this since arriving and how many times she had missed because she was still sleeping.
"Three or four hours." He shrugged.
"What do you do after?" She asked.
"Weights. There is no weapons course here." He huffed and lifted his arms over his head and interlaced his fingers on top of his head.
"Is this what you used to do in the gym?" 'And before?' She thought as she asked.
"Every day except during the games since I was thirteen." He admitted answering both questions.
"Want to come to the woods instead?" Katniss asked before she could even put together what she was saying.
"I walk like a bear." He grinned between giant breaths.
"I can walk really far behind and shoot all the squirrels and rabbits that run from you." Cato laughed at that a little. It was the hesitant laugh she was starting to recognize, he did it when he wasn't entirely sure if it was funny.
"As long as you don't mind." He shifted his weight uneasily.
"It will be fun." Katniss walked into her old house to retrieve her worn hunting jacket. Cato followed with out a word. He didn't say anything about the state of their old house. He didn't point out how small and covered in dirt it was. She was thankful for that.
"Follow me." Katniss headed out towards the meadow and the fence that was never on. Cato paused looking at the fence. "It's never on, and when it is there is a very loud hum." He looked at her for a second and then followed her through the wires.
Katniss retrieved her bow and they headed out. For the first hour or so Cato was completely useless. He knew nothing about tying snares and just stood off to the side watching the trees.
When they got farther in though he was rather useful at throwing rocks into bushes to startle the pheasants. They had three of them when Katnis heard the howls. She turned trying to figure out where it was coming from.
"Cato. We need to run." She said taking off.
"Why?" He asked catching up to her.
"We are being hunted by a pack of wild dogs." Katniss headed for an area where she knew there were sturdy trees.
"What?" Cato picked up his pace and was now a step a head of her.
"You act like you have never had to run and then climb away from a pack of wild dogs." She laughed a little and launched at a tree she knew she could get up.
"No Katniss I have never run from a pack of wild dogs. Where would I have possibly done that in the past?" He sounded mad. Katniss laughed from her perch near the top of the tree.
"You might want to climb faster." She tried to encourage. He growled something at her and pulled himself up to the third branch or so. He was still pretty low when the dogs appeared. "You coming any higher?" She asked.
"No. I saw Maze try that, we weighted about the same. I learned that lesson." Cato pulled his legs up from the snapping dogs. "What now?"
"Now we wait." Katniss called down.
"I don't know if you have noticed but I am not very good at waiting." Cato shouted up at her.
"Sorry no vases here." Katniss smiled at the look he gave her.
"Very funny." He shook his head in a mock laugh.
They sat in silence for a time while the dogs circled the tree. It was an hour or so before the dogs gave up and left. Katniss was all the way down to Cato's branch before he started moving.
"You might want to go down now." She suggested.
"Ladies first." He held his hand out.
"Are you using me as bait?" Katniss asked getting a feeling that he didn't think the dogs were gone.
"If I am are you going to shoot me?"
"No. At least not today." Katniss smiled and then climbed down first. Cato followed her slowly. After that the rest of the day was uneventful. Cato didn't really talk much unless she said something first. But he did look less tense out in the forest. She wondered if he had ever been in the woods before.
Katniss had had a forest arena but Cato had battled it out in a grassland with little cover and nothing to make weapons out of. Katniss had not seen the whole of the games, only the updates at school and only then some of them. She had not seen every moment of Cato's time in the arena. Watching him move in the woods now, the way he hugged trees as he walked made her want to see everything that had happened.
Cato spoke again when they reached the fence. He was carrying the bag of strawberries while she handled the pheasants and rabbits. Katniss pushed their spoiles under the fence when his voice stopped her.
"That was, it was nice." He paused and seemed to look around. "Thank you." Katniss heard the rest. 'I needed that. I am glad I got to see your sanctuary.'
"No problem." Katniss gave him a small smile and squeezed under the fence.
They went to the Hob to trade some of the animals for other things Katniss knew the Hawthornes needed. People stared at Cato the moment he entered but he didn't even acknowledge the attention. He stood next to her silently while she haggled with Greasy Sae. He held the trades she made never making eye contact with anyone.
They were all the way back to the victors village when Cato explain in his way his behavior. It wasn't like him to be that submissive. Sure in the Capitol he just ignored people but there had been open animosity in the Hobb.
"The boy and girl from twelve the ones I killed, they had dark hair." He said in the space between their houses.
"Yes." Katniss remembered them. Both had been from the Seam the year before.
"I killed their friends. They aren't going to like me any time soon. Don't let it upset you. I am not expecting to make friends." He had put together that most people in Twelve with dark hair were from the Seam and that the Hobb was where most of them got their food.
"I am not upset." She snapped. But she was. Cato had done so much for her and her friends were being horrible to him.
"Sure." He pressed his lips together like he was trying not to smile.
"Don't you have a car to build?" She was going for nonchalant but it came out boss. He did smile this time.
"Oh yeah." He headed for the back of the house. "Goodnight sweetheart." He laughed a little at the use of the nickname.
"Night Charming." She called after him as he rounded the corner. She could hear his laugh still as she went inside.
"You had a good hunting day didn't you?" Prim asked as she walked in.
"What makes you say that Prim?" Katniss pulled off her boots.
"You look happy." Prim gave her a quick kiss on her cheek and then danced off. Katniss wasn't sure if happy was the word for it, but she felt better than she had in days.
Chapter 27: Rain
He was outside for about half an hour when Prim came home from school. Haymitch was drunk and had screamed for him to get out. So Cato got out. But after that he had nothing to do. Katniss was out in the woods and he had no idea where exactly. Prim was at school and Mrs. Everdeen was with a patient. That exhausted his list of friends. So he stood outside in the rain watching puddles form.
"Why are you wet?" Prim asked running up with her books on her head.
"I have been standing outside." Cato told her.
"You are going to get sick." She held the front door open for him.
"Unlikely." He had been in worse conditions during his childhood and only came down with one cold. It was one of the many reasons he had been selected for the games.
"Take off your wet clothes at the door." Prim instructed him. Cato had learned that the little girl was just as much of a healer as her mother and was not to be ignored. When Prim told you to do something you did it. Last time she had threatened to claw his eyes out when he wouldn't let her look at a cut. He had learned his lesson.
Cato was out of his shirt and just about to remove his pants when the door opened to reveal an equally soaked Katniss. She stared at him blankly for a second. Cato felt heat spread on his face when he remembered that his pants were basically off. Katniss turned a rather bright shade of red for her complexion.
"No puddles in the house!" Prim screamed seeing Katniss dripping. Katniss heaves a sigh and pulls off her shirt. She hesitates when she gets to her undershirt but Prim is there giving her the stink eye so Katniss removed it as well. Cato has just enough sense to turn as Katniss goes for her pants.
"I'll get the towels." Prim says now that they are both free of their wet clothing, although Katniss's braid is soaking and dripping a line of water down her chest that is rather mesmerizing.
"Some weather." He says awkwardly trying to move his eyes somewhere but her chest.
"Shut up Cato." She snaps and crosses her arms over her chest. It makes it worse.
"Yes ma'am." He says dumbly as Prim comes back and shoves towels at both of them. Cato made quick work of his hair and arms and then was left with the realization that they would have nothing for him to wear here. Prim seems to have thought of this and gave him a blanket.
Cato was pretty sure he looked pathetic or at least ridiculous with the large floral blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Katniss at least got to put real clothes back on because this was her house. He felt momentarily disappointed when she put her shirt back on but quickly brushed the feeling aside.
"I'll make tea." Prim pushed them into the spare room with sofas and the television.
"What now?" Katniss asked as they sat there on opposite sides of the sofa not looking at each other.
"I have access codes for more of those movies Cinna wants me to watch." Cato offered. Sure the movies were weird and kind of boring but last time they had enjoyed themselves, and they seemed like something Prim might like.
Prim came back in and handed them their tea. Cato sipped and worked very hard at keeping his eyes directly on his cup. He was aware of what was trying to happen in parts of his brain and his lower body. Now was definitely not the time. So he thought about other things; about car engines and old drunk men that smelled and refused to clean the house.
"Prim would you like to watch a movie?" Katniss asked saving Cato the trouble.
"Yes!" She jumped in place with joy. Cato got up and entered the access codes for the movie. When he turned back around to the sofa he noticed that his spot at the end of the sofa was now occupied by Prim. Now the only spot for him to sit was between the two girls.
You did that on purpose. He thought as he stared at Prim. She batted her eyes at him and he knew she understood. Cato took his seat between the girls as the movie started.
"What is this one about?" Prim asked as the opening credit rolled.
"I have no idea. Cinna just gave me code and told me to watch." He grimaced a little at the title. Love was the first word.
"Why?" Prim asked sipping her own tea.
"I have bad people skills." Cato gave as way of explanation.
"I have been thinking. I don't get how these movies are supposed to help." Katniss chimed in as a bunch of couples kept meeting.
"Me either." Cato agreed. The movie was not as bad as the last one they had watched. Some of the characters actually acted like people and not Capitol people. Although some of it made no sense.
"Wait that guy is that other ladies' husband?" Cato asked at one point.
"I have no idea at this point."
"Why do they all talk funny?" Prim wanted to know.
"That's the Capitol accent." Cato explained.
"Oh like Effie." Prim nodded.
The movie was half way though when Cato saw Katniss shivering slightly. He opened the blanket and laid it over both of them. Katniss pulled the edges down around her effectively trapping the two of them in the blanket. After a while of them sitting there pressed together and Katniss still shivering Cato moved his arm around her shoulders like they had that night in the capitol. It worked and she leaned into his chest slowly but her shivering stopped.
Cato didn't remember the end of the movie.
She got up as quietly as she could and turned off the television. They were asleep and she didn't want them to wake up. Prim was happy it had worked. She wasn't sure at first if it was true, but now she could see for herself that she had it right.
Katniss hadn't been sleeping. She got maybe a few hours of sleep every night before the nightmares would come and she would scream for some one. For the first week it had been Peeta's name she cried out. That had made Prim sad because there was nothing she could do for her sister who always could do something for her.
But last night when Katniss had woken up she had shouted a new name. She had yelled for Cato. That was when Prim thought about how Katniss had looked well rested when she came back from the capitol.
Prim couldn't claim to have made it rain, but she liked to think that luck was on her side. Besides she liked Cato, he talked to her like she was an adult and always seemed to act like she was just as big as Katniss. No one ever did that. Everyone always told she was a pretty little girl or was sweet to her, not that she minded. But Cato just talked to her the way he talked to everyone. It was nice.
She turned off the lights on the way out of the room and went to tell her mom that Katniss would not be coming to dinner tonight.
Chapter 28: The Bakery
She was dragging her feet. She hadn't even made it across the square. But she had promised. Now she wondered if the frosted cookies would even be there. Peeta had done all the frosting; he was the artist in his family. With him gone would the beautiful cookies and cakes still be there?
But she promised Prim she would get some for her birthday. It was all she had asked for, to have one of those cookies she had always loved. So here she was across the square staring at the Mellark Bakery wishing the ground would open and swallow her.
"You have been standing there for fifteen minutes forty seconds." Cato snuck up next to her. He must have come up when she was thinking.
"You were timing me?" She raised an eyebrow but kept watching the storefront.
"I counted." He told her.
"Did you follow me?" She wanted to know. He shrugged.
"Prim told me." He said. 'She wanted me to come with in case it went poorly.' Was what she heard
"I am supposed to the one that worries." Katniss grumbled under her breathe.
"She loves you." Cato said it like everyone accepted this fact and it was silly that he had to say it. But it still felt like something new hearing it from him. Prim loved her. In his mind that meant she got to worry about Katniss.
"Together?" Katniss asked looking up at him.
"Of course." He did the head tilt that was his version of a small smile, because his real small smile was actually his large smile.
Katniss pushed her shoulders back and held her head high the same way Cinna had always instructed her to and marched across the square. Cato beat her to the door his legs were close to twice hers length. He held it open for her and she stepped in and held her breath for a second.
Two boys stood behind the counter. It was a bit like being punched in the gut. They looked like him but didn't at the same time. The taller one had Peeta's cheek bones but not his mouth. The younger had his jaw line but not his eyes. If you mashed their faces together you could almost get a complete Peeta but neither of them had the right eyes.
"It's you." The older one said when they realized who was there. "Go tell dad she is here." He said to the younger.
"Be nice Bann." The younger ordered before running off. Bann, the older boy snorted.
"Are you just here to see dad or are you buying something?" Bann asked.
"Five frosted cookies and one iced cake." Cato placed the money on the counter.
"Sure thing, Two." Bann snapped and started wrapping up the cookies in a brown bag. Katniss wanted to say something but then suddenly there was Mr. Mellark and she saw why she couldn't find Peeta's eyes in his brother's faces, they were in his father's. Mr. Mellark, who had loved her mother; Mr. Mellark, who had brought her cookies that she had thrown away for no reason; Mr. Mellark, who was the only one in the family with Peeta's eyes.
She clenched her teeth to stop the tears that were hiding behind her eyes. It was funny because Mr. Mellark did a similar motion. For a moment no one moved. Then Cato picked up the cookies and turned to her.
"When did Prim want her present?" He asked. But Katniss heard 'do you want me to stay? Do you want me to leave?'
"She can wait a bit." Katniss told him. Mr. Mellark must have understood because he opened the side of the counter and motioned her forward.
"We can talk in the sitting room. Bann, Lafsy, behave." He ordered to the boys. Katniss followed him behind the counter and then up the stairs to the living quarters. Cato stayed down stairs and took a seat near the stairs. He wanted her to have some privacy, which was exactly what Katniss needed.
The sitting room was at the top of the stairs with other rooms that must be the rest of their home branching off to the right.
"I should have come sooner." Katniss whispered almost the instant Mr. Mellark sat down.
The sitting room was faded from the sunlight that came through the windows. The yellow armchairs were closer to a white. There was a small fireplace between the two chairs that remained unlit. It was clear that the room did not get a lot of use, a layer of dust covered just about everything but the chairs.
"I wasn't expecting you for another couple of months." Mr. Mellark smiled sadly at her. "Peeta always said you were not good with talking to people."
"Horrible really." She answered looking down at her hands she ran them nervously over the arrows she wore under her jacket.
They sat there silently for a moment neither speaking nor looking at the other. Well Mr. Mellark watched her but Katniss couldn't bring herself to look into Peeta's eyes.
"I don't blame you." He said when she thought they weren't going to say anything else.
"I do." It was the truth and wasn't at once. She blamed the capitol more. They could have come and stitched him up in time instead they made her watch him die slowly.
"May I?" He asked indicating the arrow she kept touching. It was the one with Peeta's name on it. Katniss removed it and handed the bracelet to Mr. Mellark. "Well, isn't that something." He was tearing up when he saw the inscription.
"He was my favorite." Mr. Mellark started. "I know that as parents we aren't supposed to have favorites but we do. Bann is too much like his mother and Lafsy is so withdrawn. But Peeta was mine. He could paint. He hardly ever got the chance but a few times he used left over icing and some wood. I am glad he got the time he did with you."
"I could live a thousand lifetimes and not deserve him." Katniss whispered wetly. She was crying and her nose had started to run.
"Yes, but he wanted you. That's all that matters. You were his choice." Mr. Mellark rubbed his thumb over Peeta's name on the bracelet.
"I failed him." Katniss sobbed in truth now.
"I don't see it that way. Way I see it, my son got to spend his last days with the woman he loved and he got her hear her sing. He told me he loved your voice." Mr. Mellark passed the bracelet back to her. "Don't wait another two months before coming back. I like having some one else who remembers him fondly."
Katniss nodded and stood. She was just about to the stairs when his voice stopped her.
"Katniss, try to be happy. He hated it when you were sad. It always ate at him when you were sad. He would want you happy." Mr. Mellark gave her a real smile and then Katniss ran out of there. She didn't stop to get Cato she just ran.
Damn him and his stupid beautiful eyes. Before she knew it, she was in the forest and up a tree unable to get her breathing under control. She sat frozen up there where it was safe until the sun had fully gone.
"Do you want a blanket?" Cato asked from the base of the tree. He had a pack with him but not the cookies. He must have gone to her house and dropped off the cookies and then come looking for her.
"No." She answered sullenly.
"It will be cold." He told her. This was Cato's version of coaxing her down the tree. He didn't do anything the way most people did. Everything was Cato's way.
"You could come up." She offered.
"The trees are your place." He said. Katniss was thinking about it when Cato gave it one last shot. "I brought cookies. And cheese rolls."
"Are you trying to bribe me with food?" She asked.
"Yes." Cato said with complete honesty. Katniss gave a little laugh that sounded like a sob and moved to come down the tree. When she got to the bottom she held out her hand and Cato placed a roll and a cookie in her hand.
"Thanks for coming to get me." Katniss mumbled with her mouthful. Cato took of his jacket and handed it to her. She stuck her arms in the sleeves as she shoved the cookie in her mouth as well.
"Of course." Cato swung the pack back on and started back for the district.
"Do you think it gets any better?" Katniss asked as they walked.
"I think it gets easier, not better." Cato said looking up at the stars.
"I think you are right." Katniss agreed. They walked back to the victor's village in silence. That night Katniss went to bed still wearing Cato's jacket and her dreams were not so horrible.
Chapter 29: Babysitting
"This was a bad idea." He tells Prim who stands next to him as the other children make a much of the meadow. Some run in aimless circles and others sit and talk.
"No it's a good idea." Prim sounded sure but Cato doubts that she feels that resolve. It was parcel day today, and for some reason Haymitch though it would be a good time to start training.
"I am leaving." He states with a headshake and turned.
"Oh no you don't." Prim grabs him before he can move. "You promised." Cato lets out a long-suffering sigh.
"Lets begin." Cato tries for his stage voice and it seems to work because all the kids stop. Most of them have the dark hair marking they are from coal mining families but a handful have the bright blond hair of Prim.
"We are going to do a sprint first so I can figure out who is the fastest. We are going to divide by strengths and weaknesses not age." Cato points to the edge of the meadow. "Line up in groups of five. When I drop my arm run as fast as you can, maybe faster to the other side."
There is a pause while all the kids look at him. A few glace at Prim as if looking for confirmation. Cato gives a few of them time to work it out before shouting "NOW!"
There is a mass of limbs as they children scramble to make it to the other side of the meadow. Prim smiles and hands Cato two of the stopwatches and takes another two herself. She also pulls out a notebook and some pencils. They are going to track the fastest so that they can be trained for either strike or extreme evasive tactics.
"First group." Cato holds the watches up. "Go!"
They are on the seventh round of runners when a boy gives his name to go with the time that Cato perks up. Rory Hawthorn. He is a tiny version of Katniss' hunting partner, the boy they call her cousin. But they aren't really cousins.
"Can you hunt?" He askes the boy while Prim writes down his time. He is fast, but closer to the low and of the faster group.
"Not really Gale wont take me." Rory looks crushed.
"Make him and when he can't make Katniss. We train you as a priority." Cato takes the note book and circles Rory's name.
"Why?" Prim and Rory ask in unison.
"Gale is too old and Prim is too publicly recognized. You are the next closest to Katniss. You are getting reaped in the Quell and if not then in the next games for sure." Cato says what he knows to be the truth.
"But my name is only in there a few times. I haven't taken any tessare." Rory looks panicked.
"The bowl will be rigged. Katniss made them angry with some of her stunts in the arena." Cato clears the watches of their times and motions for the next group to get ready. Rory stays with them.
"Gale says you are capitol sympathizer. That you enjoyed killing those kids. That you don't understand pain or suffering of others." Rory says while the next group runs.
"Okay." Cato makes notes of the times.
"Don't you care?" Rory asks looking confused.
"Am I supposed to?" Cato looks at Prim because he isn't sure what the response for this situation should be. She must understand because she tries to explain.
"You are supposed to be upset when people say bad things about you. If you aren't it means you think highly of yourself."
"But everyone says bad things about me." Cato is further stared at by the children who seem at a loss for words.
"Everyone?" Asks Prim.
"Even your mom?" Rory askes.
"I haven't seen my mom in years and she hasn't tried to contact me so I assume she doesn't care. I suppose Prim has never said anything bad about me." Cato thinks about it but he cant put anyone else on the list.
"Surely Katniss hasn't." Prim now looks concerned.
"Not to my face. But I am sure she hated me while watching my games." Prim and Rory get a little look on their faces like they have just gotten sick. "I suppose that means I take you off the list Prim." She frowns at him but nods. "Next!" Cato shouts and the kids take off.
After maybe another hour or so he has the fast kids divided from the slower kids. The fast will be easier once he can figure out a way to train them with weapons. The slow ones concern him more, and from that group the girls. He is pretty sure Rory is the next male is they ignore the Quell. So that means there is a girl counter part he is missing.
"Fast kids, welcome to Team Speed. You will train separately on a different day. You are dismissed. You are going to be Team Talent." Cato explains to the slightly sad looking group. "The goal with you is to find special talents. Like how Annie Cresta was a good swimmer or how Haymitch was smart."
That perks up some of the kids. He asks Prim quietly to note which children seemed interested when he offered brains. They will be Team Sneak shortly. He also starts pulling a few of the kids to the side on sight alone.
"We are also going to have a Team Strength." He points at his new small group. "But until further notice this is one giant team and we are going to practice twice a week." A round of groans erupts. "If you have a problem with this take it up with your parents."
Haymitch had gone around offering Cato's services last week. He had made it clear that the point of all of this was to bring more kids home, to have more families in the victor's village. It also meant that kids would have better chances to get sponsors. Nearly every parent had agreed and had said their child would show up every day.
Cato was not surprised when every child came back the following week. Including a few new additions. He wasn't great at this, there were gaps in his own training. He had been strong and stubborn so most of his training had gone in a single direction. He had vague ideas of where to go with Team Speed, which quickly became two teams Strike and Swift. But with Talent he was a bit more lost. Sneak got along just fine without him most of the time but they needed strength training and some survival skills.
"I need your help." Cato tells Katniss on the third week.
"Do you?" She gives him a funny look like what he just said had some relevance to it. Cato thinks its because he asked for help, something he never does. He is getting much better at reading her face.
"I don't have any survival skills." Katniss is so shocked by this admission that water comes out of her mouth when she makes the 'phhfft' noise. "Its not that funny."
"How did you get though the games?" Katniss looks a bit confused for a second.
"I had sponsors. I never had to find food and I don't have the first idea of how to teach them that."
"Oh those skills." She exaggerates the words. He knows she is teasing him.
"I will be in the meadow." Cato leaves after that. She follows him but doesn't say anything until they reach the meadow and watches some of the kids running though their different skills.
A lot of the slower kids are taking turns climbing trees or finding good hiding places quickly. The fast kids are divided into two teams, the runners and the chasers. If you get caught by the chasers you have to run the length of the district. Katniss watched all of this with pursed lips.
"It upsets you." Cato says understanding the struggle in her mind.
"But they need it." Katniss is seeing ghosts as she watches the children play, the same way he does every day.
"Its just." Cato starts.
"Yeah." Katniss finishes. They stand there for a while before finally Katniss can't help but show a few of the kids the proper way to set a snare. Rory walks up to Cato after a few minutes and stands there silently. Cato gets the impression the boy is waiting for him to say something first but he doesn't.
"I told Gale that he was wrong about you." Rory tell him.
"Thank you." Cato hands Rory a watch. "Run the length of the district." Rory smiles.
"I knew you liked me too." And then the little boy dashes off.
She comes in the third week, mostly to learn hunting from Katniss. Its more fun than she expects and as exciting as she hoped. She greets the large boy from Two but has rarely said any more to him. Cato doesn't seem to mind, Madge likes that. When they take breaks for lunch she sits with Katniss and Cato and the three barely talk but its never awkward or uncomfortable.
Madge is getting better with the bow and decent with the snares when she chooses to go out by herself on Sunday. There is no training on Sundays so that Cato can work on his car and Katniss can spend time with Gale.
"What are you doing Undersee?" A deep voice says from behind her.
"Practicing." Madge tells him. Gale gives her his normal stare. She might hate him if he wasn't one of Katniss' only friends.
"Why? Its not like you need the game." He is snarky and hateful every time he speaks to her.
"The Quell is coming. Cato thinks it wont go well for people Katniss cares for." Madge goes back to trying to tie the knots properly.
"Oh so on top of everything now he can either see the future or works for the capitol." Gale gives a scoff and Madge has to fight the urge to glare at him. Ignore him.
"No. But he knows the other victors. And victors from lesser districts who out smart the games or step out of line are punished." Madge whispers.
"So they change the Quell just to stick it to Catnip? Not likely." He sounds so different out here. There is still that snark but its gotten worse in the woods.
"Maybe not. But I still have another two years in the reaping." And then almost as an afterthought, "Rory has more." That stops him. They stare at each other for a few minutes and she can tell he is trying to reel in his anger.
"I am not babysitting you. You break your ankle that's on you." He points and she can see murder in his eyes.
"I can handle myself." She tells him. He just rolls his eyes and storms off. Madge follows him. She needs to learn.
"How is charming doing?" Katniss looks back from the window. It will be Cato's fourth week running the training today.
"I'm not sure." She shrugs and Haymitch wants to throw a bucket at her. It won't fly right now that she has dumped the water on him.
"Well what do you think so far?" Haymitch can't bring himself to watch. He understands that it will help. That in the long run this training camp will maybe bring back more kids. But right now all he can think about is how he is letting Cato train children to murder each other.
"He doesn't divide by age, says they don't in the arena so he wont." Haymitch likes the sound of that already. "He gave them team names and Prim says some of them use them at school. Sneak for smart kids. Speed for the fast but that is sub divided into Strike and Swift by the kid's demeanor. Team strength is full of the bigger kids that all worship him."
"It's a game." Haymitch says suddenly getting the point of teams and meaniless names.
"Today for the first time the teams are going to be rearranged. One kid from each group and they are going to act out a mini Games." Katniss sounds angry and Haymitch wants to look but his head has started to pound.
"Awful." Katniss finishes.
"Clever." Haymitch corrects. She stares at him in horror. "Oh go on already. I am not the child that needs to be watched here."
"I don't like it." Katniss says as she heads for the door.
"I know sweetheart. I know." Haymitch opens the bottle and takes a chug.
Chapter 30: Gale
He wasn't completely sure how it happened or rather how it had never happened before. It was two months and never before had he and Gale been alone at any point. Prim was always there with him or Katniss and on one rare occasion Haymitch had been there as well. Rory made a round as the third wheel a few times as well.
But now it was just the two of them. Cato was in the meadow alone long after the children had left. He was running through some of the hand-to-hand exercises he could remember when Gale walked out of the woods.
"I see they let you off your leash." Gale sneered at him. Cato ignored him and tried to focus on his breathing and form. His left arm was losing some of its accuracy. "I am talking to you." Gale shouts.
"I hear that." Cato stopped moving. "So tell me then. All the things you have been waiting to say." Cato folds his arms and waits. It was going to happen at some point, they are too much fighters to put up with the other. Confrontation was always the only option.
"You are a murdering freak." Gale starts.
"Agreed." Cato frowns but nods.
"You are just the capitol's puppet and you don't belong here." Gale seems to have found some steam and keeps going. "You have no morality. You murdered that little girl with your bare hands, you should be put down like the animal you are. You brainwashed Rory to your side and I will gut you for that. You are playing right into their stupid games and taking Katniss with you. Well I wont let you. She isn't getting wrapped up in your disease." He is almost snarling by the end of it.
"Feel any better?" Cato asks. He sees it coming; Gale broadcasts his movements with his whole body. The punch takes Cato right in the chin as he expected but he only barely loses his balance.
"Now I do." Gale gives a proud huff that ends in a weeze. Cato has him on the ground with his arm twisted behind his back. Cato makes a note to keep the pressure low so he doesn't soffucate Gale.
"My turn." He growls at the stupid boy. "By the time I was Rory's age I had been tortured three ways. I had wood splints put under my fingernails, I had been water boarded and I had been shocked. I got three more before I was sixteen because I was the best and the best get to learn the most pain. So you should be happy that I am the one standing between your fiancé and the capitol, because they are the ones that made me."
In a perhaps completely unexpected turn of events Gale latches onto the least important word of all.
"Fiancé?" Gale is able to gasp the question. Cato laughed and rolled off the boy.
"Out of all of that you get stuck on that word? Fiancé, the person you are going to marry. What you don't do that here?" Cato cant help the laugh at escapes as Gale brushes dirt off himself.
"No, we don't have a word like that. You just get married. But where did you hear that we were anyway?" Gale seems confused and out of sorts. Cato takes note that Gale doesn't do well with situations he isn't expecting.
"No one told me. I put it together myself." It hadn't really taken that long once he went back and watched the interviews. During the games Cato had watched the live stream and none of the extras. But once he was here he had gone back to see who was interviewed for Katniss. Gale stood out and after two months of watching their interactions Cato was pretty sure he had their relationship figured out.
"Well we aren't. At least it's never come up." Gale admits.
"But it was understood." Cato can see the emotions play across the other boy's face.
"Yes. I think it was." Gale looks deflated.
"But now it wont happen for a while if at all." Cato needs this boy to get it. "She needs to publicly grieve for him and then keep up the act with me for a few years."
"Act?" For some one that seems to have a great deal of thoughts about the capitol Gale is missing a lot of information.
"The lovers thing we cooked up. It keeps her off the boards." Cato tries to explain.
"I don't understand. Katniss said it was just the capitol twisting things. And what do you mean keep her off the boards?" Gale is getting upset again. Cato makes a note that he has a short fuse.
"Cinna came up with the idea after Peeta didn't make it. At sixteen a pretty victor can be sold to the highest bidder. A night can go for thousands and a week can cost millions."
"You are talking about prostitution." Gale looks beyond disgusted and confused.
"Yes." Cato nods and shares the emotion a little. "To not make on the bidding boards you have to either be ugly, too violent or already taken."
"So Katniss suddenly has a lover that is another victor and she doesn't go on the boards."
"And as long as she has a lover that no one wants to mess with she stays off the boards."
"What happens if you stop the act?" Gale asks.
"Right now? She is sold in minutes, a lot of the bids are placed before the games are over. In a few years? Maybe they don't put her up or maybe they do. In a decade? She is almost guaranteed to be safe, they hate age in the capitol." It's the truth. No one is coming for him but he has heard the horror stories from the mentors about Finnick. "But it means they have to retaliate."
"So you train people that could be used against her." Gale seems to be putting things together finally.
They sit there for a moment with neither of them moving or speaking. They are both predators wait for the other to run first. But Cato has more practice and Gale gives in first.
"You are still a monster. This changes nothing. I still hate you." He is trying for venom but it comes out halfhearted.
"Probably less than I hate myself." Cato shrugs and stands. Gale stands as well and turns to leave. "One more thing." Gale looks back. "Touch me again and it will take Prim and Mrs. Everdeen a long time to put you back together. We clear?"
"Crystal." Gale storms away. Cato stays in the meadow and wonders why he told Gale any of that. It wasn't for him to know, he wasn't important. But he loved Katniss, so he got to hear secrets in exchange for the understanding that they were on the same side of the real battle.
Chapter 31: The Kiss
She was surprised to see him in the valley this late. This wasn't his place but she had lead him here once so he must have come on memory alone. Cato sat below the rock looking up at the sky. His arms were folded behind his head and his legs spread wide. The sun was setting and the light painted him in shades of orange.
"I thought you would be training today?" Katniss sat down next to him.
"No." There was something off. She didn't hear more to that response. Katniss could almost always hear the rest but today there was nothing.
"Ghosts." Cato swallows after the word and Katniss thinks she knows. She lies down next to him so that his arm is just above her head. His leg brushes hers but he doesn't move away.
"Tell me." Katnss instructs. Cato says nothing for a long time.
"She was so scared. I knew she had no weapon. I was three times her size and I didn't care. The alliance was over and I was so close to going home. Just three more to go. I just wanted to leave but so did she." It took Katniss a while to realize who he was talking about; the little girl from five that he had killed with his bare hands in his games.
"The others blur or fade into a mess of blood and screams but she just stares at me. No matter what. I will die with her haunting me." There is a wet sound and Katniss lets him keep his dignity. She waits for the noise to stop for him to wipe his face with his sleeve.
"I don't know if I can ever be happy." Katniss admits.
"I know." Cato agrees softly. Neither move as the sun sets and the stars come out. A chill sweeps through the air and still they stay there.
"Cato, why me? The whole truth this time." Katniss turns on her side, propping herself up on one arm to look at him.
"It was you." Cato rolls so that they are facing each other propped on their sides only a hands width apart. "It was just you. You cut through the haze of drugs and memories. There was a big hole of nothing in me that they had carved out and the first time I saw you, something started to fill up that space. If you died I was sure I would never find anything else to fill that hole. So I tried to save you for selfish reasons."
There is a brutal honesty in his words. There are no second layers for her to hear, no extra thoughts shown on his face. That was the truth, and Katniss knows that it might have been a selfish act but she knows that emptiness.
She looks into his eyes to see that they look less hallow than she remembers. He is healing and some how that's her work. Maybe just maybe if she can fill his hole he can fill up hers. Because she trusts him and he would never fail her. So she does the thing she thought she would never do again.
She kisses him. It's not a brief peck or like that long kiss that made her feel something. She closes her eyes tightly and presses her lips against his with a force of desperation and hope.
His lips are different. They are thinner than Peeta's and at the same time wider. Yet they can do the same motion. They press back and it's warm and wonderful.
They break apart and Katniss looks in Cato's eyes. They are sparkling with starlight and she feels a sensation like a drop of water in a bucket. He looks at her for a heart beat and then he moves.
She should have expected that Cato would never be hesitant or reluctant in something like this, something where it's about bodies. He reaches out with the arm not propping him up and grabs her by the back or the neck. His hand tangles in her fraying braid as he pulls her to him. Her body is pressed against his when his lips return.
This kiss is longer and with more behind it. There are several like that as Cato pours something of himself into her. He is on his back now and Katniss has straddled his lap. Her arms hold his face while he keeps one hand securely in her hair and the other wrapped around her waist.
That hungry place in her has opened and Katniss finds herself opening her mouth needing more and Cato fills it. His tongue moves on hers and she feels heat pool in her stomach. Cato sucks her lower lip and then as if he can't help it bites down for a brief second and then the tongues are back.
Katniss can feel Cato's muscles bunch in groups down the length of his entire body like he is holding himself in place. She feels a sense of power here with him under her. He holds her with such force and solidity. It's exhilarating.
Something howls in the distance, a dog or maybe a wolf. The noise sets them both off; they are hunters it's too ingrained. They break apart but their bodies stay in place. Katniss scans the visible tree line but sees nothing; Cato looks around from his vantage point.
Katniss knows they are going to have to leave now but she is reluctant to move, even more so when she sees the state Cato is in. His breath comes out in ragged puffs and he seems to be gasping for air. The heat in her spreads. She did that.
"We need to go back." He says as his breathing comes under control.
"Yeah." Neither moves.
"We can always come back." Cato tells her and Katniss hears the other part. 'We can do this again.'
"We can." She hopes he hears the 'yes' in there. From the smile that crosses his lips and reaches his eyes Katniss is pretty sure he did.
She stands first and holds out her hand to help him up. Cato nearly pulls her back down with the force of his movement. He lets out a little laugh as she stumbles and Katniss shoves him in front of her. They make their way carefully back to the district. They don't talk. Just follow one another through the woods and the now dark town.
Katniss is just about to separate and go to her house when he grabs her at the neck again. She is pressed against him and his lips descend for a single deep kiss. His hands cup her face as he presses in and when he breaks away seconds later his thumbs rub over her cheeks.
"Goodnight Katniss." Cato breathes inches from her face.
"Goodnight Cato." She whispers back. They untangle from each other and he walks briskly to his front door. Katniss is left standing in the space between their homes wondering what door she just opened, and certain she doesn't want to close it.
Chapter 32: Grasslands
He can tell she wants something almost the moment she walks in. Cato is gone, either training or at the capitol office attempting to order parts for his car which has become his talent. Katniss uses the front door, something she hardly ever does and that is only the first sign.
She makes no comment about the state of the house or the fact that Cato lives here too and shouldn't he stop being drunk all the time. Katniss sits next to him for a while and he knows she is gathering herself to ask something.
"Come out with it already. I am only going to be between bottles for so long." Haymitch slurs as he reaches for the next bottle.
"I want to see Cato's games. All of it." Katniss tells him.
"Why would you want to do a thing like that?" Haymitch asks her.
"Because I need to see it. I need to be prepared." He is unprepared for that answer. This is not the same girl he met on the train. She has a new depth and he was sure did not exist before. Monster Mash is good for his sweetheart, he is opening up other parts of her.
"Okay. I'll get the tapes." It took him seven tries to find the right room where he kept the recent tapes. He couldn't remember where they were sober. He only ever watched them drunk, when he wants to see his Ghosts alive. Katniss takes the tape wordlessly and dashes off.
Haymitch goes back to the bottle hoping that Katniss can find the answers she needs. He never does.
It starts with the reapings. District one has the complicated volunteer process but eventually two strong children walk on stage. Then comes Two and Katniss is riveted. They announce the normal rules about how the volunteers have been put through lists already and their two tributes will now come to the stage.
She is unprepared for the Cato that walks to the stage. He is not her Cato. The scars that litter his face and neck are missing so are the ones on his hands and arms. He smiles easily and waves to the crowd. He shakes peoples hands and laughs with the other tribute.
In the parade he is dressed in a golden outfit complete with winged headpiece and detailed breastplate. He looks intimidating but not the way he does now. Her Cato has a blankness to his eyes when he stares that is unnerving, this Cato has an anger in his eyes that is terrifying.
Katniss also notices he makes eye contact. He stares people down while he talks to them or even before he talks to them. This being mentor tapes there are clips of things that didn't air nationally. She watches Cato size up every other tribute on the first day of training.
She has never watched Cato when he went to the training center and now Katniss is glad that she didn't. He is single minded in his destruction of the stations. His sword abilities are chilling and his throws of a spear give her the shakes. He never once goes for the survival stations. Cato does the obstacle course in record time.
The interviews are the worst so far. Cato is cocky and arrogant. He brags about his abilities and how many kills he was going to make. He even called himself brutal. Katnis can barely take watching much more of this and then the games begin.
It takes the perspective of one of the tributes going up the tubes and many cry out in frustration to see the openness and lack of cover. Tall grass and small hills surround the near barren cornucopia. Only four small packs sit deep in the horn and the space is littered with small knives stuck in the ground.
Fifteen die in the first hour. Six of those kills come at Cato's hands. He is double wielding the knives. The careers are all bloodied despite their kills. The knives were everywhere and too easy to grab, losing one did not mean being unarmed because there was another within reach. The district twelve kids are part of the first group to go and Katniss realizes now why she has so little memory of the rest.
The careers go to sleep with parachutes filled with food but no new weapons. Cato and the other kids joke about how easy this is but it's clear already that the alliance wont hold much longer, there are too few left already. A girl from four and a boy from one haven't even made it through the first day. The remaining tributes can't find food or even build shelters easily because the grass betrays their location.
"We didn't go hunting at night, they didn't supply those glasses and it was too easy to get lost in that grass." Cato says from behind her. Katniss nearly jumps out of her skin to find him standing in the doorway.
She looks guilty. He can see her trying to bottle the emotion up and come up with a rationalization but she doesn't need to. He expected this; eventually one of them was going to watch his hell. It just wanted more time before she hated him.
Last night had been more than he could have ever put into words. He had opened up that place in himself that he kept so guarded and she had not rejected him. Katniss had done the most amazing thing he could have dream of she had kissed him.
Cato had forgotten how good it felt to hold another person and be held in return; to feel their heat seep into you and know that you are not alone. He might have been satisfied with just her pressed against him but her kisses did things to him.
Katniss was still the girl on fire and she poured that into everything she did. Cato had lain awake last night wondering how he hadn't been burned up in the process. He had thought last night that maybe with this impossible girl's help he could be happy.
Now she would reject him. He knew it. She will leave me for this. Once she sees who I really am.
"I'm sorry…" Katniss starts.
"I understand." Cato tells her before she can get farther. He sits down next to her on the sofa and leans back with arms crossed. "You should finish it. So you know." Katniss looks at him with wide unsure eyes but he just picks up the remote and restarts where she paused.
It's funny watching it from some one else's eyes. Seeing the scars being made that he is so familiar with is strange. Watching the person he used to be break in front of his eyes is gut wrenching.
He is silent next to her but she can tell there is a storm in there somewhere. The next day opens with the careers making attempts at hunting down the remaining five tributes. Cato comes across the first but when he goes to slash the boy's next the knife doesn't go deep enough. Blood oozes but doesn't gush. Cato tenses next to her and Katniss finds that she has reached out to hold his hand.
On the screen it takes several stabs of the little knives before the boy dies. But by then something is happening to that Cato. His eyes are unclear yet focused. He is getting twitchy and a few hours later when the girl from one purposes they break the alliance he snaps her neck before she can even get far from him.
"If I had to name a moment when I knew not matter what I did it was over, I would say it was then." Cato tells her. "I had actually kind of liked her in training. She was a big smartass."
In the games the kids are scattered in the grass but the camera is staying with Cato. This must be a later edit. The girl from two kills another kid on the third day only to be then killed by the boy from four. In three days the field is down to five tributes.
Nothing happens on the fourth day. The arena almost seems too large now because the wind picks up and the kids can run from one another with no fear. It's nothing but hours of chasing wind. Cato looks to be going farther into the abyss on the screen. He chases waves of grass and screams when there is no victim at the end of the movement. Next to her he has turned completely to stone.
The next tribute dies at Cato's hands because in a fit of rage he threw the knives. It also seems as if many of the others have lost their knives as well. The ground swallows them up almost instantly. The game makers are trying to slow things down.
"Here she comes." Cato barely whispers next to her on the sofa and then Katniss sees her. She is a wisp of a girl. Barely standing at four feet tall. She has wide green eyes with a freckle-covered nose. Her hair is a beautiful shade of brown that looks like one of those whiskeys Haymitch drank in the capitol. She is beautiful and ethereal even while covered in dirt and grass.
He closes his eyes as on screen the game makers show that the girl and Cato are about to converge. They in fact run into eachother, literally. She bumps into his chest and screams. He punches her in the face after a second but she just keeps screaming. Tears roll from her eyes and she looks like Run in that moment. The screams are effecting both versions of Cato, on screen he seems to go mad and begins the actions that will make him famous but here in the present he is trembling.
The pulp that is left when he is done can hardly be called a body. He is gasping and heaving. Cato dry heaves for three minutes before walking away. He never cries in the arena but she sees now that he is no longer the same person that walked in.
The final battle is after that. It's the boy from One and Cato with nothing but their fists. They both are impressive but Cato is just a bit bigger and has lost himself. He takes the hits with little to no reaction. When the other boy breaks Cato's nose he laughs and snaps the boy's wrist. It's over then but still it drags on for another several minutes.
Eventually Cato get's the boy in a headlock and snaps his neck. The tape doesn't end. It shows medics attempting to get Cato into the hovercraft. He kills the first one that touches him, just punches the man's jaw hard enough that his neck snaps as well. They shoot him with darts then.
Katniss doesn't know what to say but she needs to do something because he is looking at her. Cato's eyes shine bright with a swirl of emotions. She catches a glimpse of regret and grief but the one that is the most clear is a bracing. He thinks she will reject him, Katniss see that now.
She takes the hand she is holding and brings it closer to her face. Cato's knuckles are an uneven mess of scars and bone. They are perhaps the single most changed part of him. They are the outward symbol of what happened inside. Katniss leans down and kisses his knuckles.
"I don't hate you Cato." She tells him in a small voice. He looks lost. Its as if he expected every other outcome but for her to not hate him. Cato pulls her to him from their joined hands and wraps his arms around her. Katniss returns the hug.
"Thank you." He whispers into her hair. Katniss is just happy she didn't ruin it. She doesn't want him gone.
Chapter 33: Women
He still worried her. She felt horrible every time she found herself shying away from the massive boy or walking a larger distance from him. He had been nothing but sweet to Prim and Katniss. Cato never yelled or had a fit of anger for as long as he had been here.
Yet she was scared of him. He had killed those children. Just like her little girl. Sue Everdeen was scared of her daughter too.
These children that had killed other children. She hated those arrows that Katniss refused to take off, because every time they caught the light she thought about the two mothers who were crying. She looked at her daughter's face and saw those two boys that would never kiss their mothers again.
She had cried when they took Katniss from her, and she cried when Katniss came back because her daughter was not the same. They had never been close, even as a baby Katniss had loved her father more. Katniss would cry until her father would sing to her.
Sue could remember the first time she held her first little girl. How shocked she was to see the shock of brown hair on the baby's tiny head. Sue had so thought her first child would be her little girl. But she should have known that first moment when Katniss refused to settled down until Bram took her.
It was as if all of Katniss's childhood had been spend from the sidelines. Sue had only a handful of memories where her and Katniss were alone and always they fought then.
But then came Primrose, so tiny and delicate. Sue got to try again with her second daughter. And for a while she had everything she wanted. Bram had Katniss and Sue had Primrose. It was perfect and happy for a time. Then it was over and Bram was gone forever.
Katniss was a little girl one moment and an angry adult the next. Sue barely could remember when that happened but her fierce daughter became a burdened woman almost over night.
And now she was a murder. Sue was trying to mend the relationship, to fix it and make their family a unit again. But he had come with Katniss and Sue was not sure what she was supposed to do with this man shaped boy.
Sue hated him. He was everything that she despised. People like him at taken too many of her friends and her friend's children. And at the same time she loved him. Cato had brought her daughter back to her alive. He was keeping her daughter sane.
Sue Everdeen was lost.
Her big sister had come home and everything had changed. Prim had always known that Katniss would take care of everything, but that had chanced the moment her name was called in the reaping. Katniss was taken from her and suddenly Primrose was all alone.
Mother was inconsolable for the first two days. But then they did the impossible. The two of them together pulled themselves and survived without Katniss. Gale would help but he was taciturn and awful, he spit venom at every turn. So they left him alone.
Prim sold the cheese from her goat to the Mellarks, who now bought almost everything Lady produced. Mr. Mellark had been kind to her always but now they were friends. They talked when she came to sell the cheese and he taught her how to make different breads.
Prim and Madge found that they were stronger than they ever expected. Madge had sucked up her fear and helped Greasy Sae collect money in the Hob and around town. Prim had given each person a flower in thanks.
And when Katniss came back she found she wasn't needed anymore. Primrose saw it on her sister's face. Their family was no longer starving and Katniss had lost that part of herself. The town was better off so trading in the Hob was not has much of a risk.
So Prim tried to find something for her big sister to do now that their lives were forever changed. They tried to teach her to sew or help with the laundry but those had failed. Prim had tried to give her sister so many different tasks and each had fallen flat.
Then Prim saw the way Cato watched her sister. The way his eyes tracked her across the room or street. How the two of them seemed to have entire conversations without saying more than five words. It was then that Prim realized what her sister needed most.
So Prim was going to help her sister fall in love, because what Katniss needed some one to love and love her more than she needed anything else. First there had been their father, and then Prim had come followed by Peeta. Now Katniss was down to one person that she loved, and Prim didn't need her sister as much anymore.
But Cato needed her sister. So Prim would give him what he needed, and what Katniss need.
She didn't have other friends. Kids from the seam hated her because she was the mayor's daughter and kids from the town hated her for being the mayor's daughter. Only Katniss had never cared, only Katniss had looked at Madge and seen a person.
It was the reason her and Gale never got along, they both wanted Katniss to themselves. Neither of them were the kind of people to share. They hadn't spoken during the games or for the month after before Katniss came home.
And then suddenly after no time at all they were speaking, not only speaking but friends of sorts. Sure Gale had yet to call her anything other than Undersee and had a near constant sneer on his face. But at night when Madge thought about who she would want to save in case of a fire she knew that the list was now one person longer.
It was more likely two people longer. Cato was her friend too. He showed her how to hold weapons and how to swing them. Cato told Madge that she was quick and silent and how he envied her. He never sneered at her or said anything mean but he never paid attention to her the way he did Katniss.
So Madge accepted the idea that she was invisible. No one would even notice if she disappeared.
She was going to all the best parties now. Everyone loved her because she was the one who had picked a Victor. She got to wear all her best clothes and Cinna had even made her some more.
This was the happiest Effie could ever remember being. So when some one said that they had heard rumors that Snow wasn't happy with Katniss, Effie brushed it off. No one could hate her first victor.
She heard the whispers but kept them to herself. It wasn't time. She could wait.
"Girls are so silly." Katniss shakes her head as she watches the girls in training refuse to eat the bugs.
"Not all of them." Cato pointed out that most of the girls were giving it a try.
Chapter 34: Men
He was going to strangle Cato. He could do it when the stupid boy was sleeping, but he would do it. Haymitch couldn't find any of the good liquor, not a drop. It had vanished in the night and Haymitch only let one person in the house so the list of suspects was extremely short.
It had been fine when he would just throw out trash. Actually had been kind of nice that Cato took an interest the state of the house. It had stopped being funny when he started to limit Haymitch. It had meant war.
The trick was finding things that he could hide that would make Cato upset. It had taken Haymitch a week to figure out that taking the spark plugs off the engine would send the boy into a complete rampage. Granted Haymitch had also ended up with a black eye and no booze.
He was a tight-lipped bastard. But Haymitch would out last him; Cato wasn't the one with the brains. This time he had taken the water pump out of the engine. Haymitch gave it about four hours before Cato got home to find it missing and in the mean time he was going to search every room in this too big house.
Later when he was drunk and sitting in the dark Haymitch cried. He cried for all those children who were taken too soon. But more than anything he cried for the ones that came out because they were never children again.
He thought of the girls that went into that arena with him and how he failed each of them. He thought of all the countless starving crying babies he had lead to the slaughter. He thought of the two fighters who had finally taken him out of his stupor and the monster with a heart that tried to help.
He cried for the kids he once knew.
He had known it would be dangerous from the moment he spoke to that man in the basement he had known. His life was expendable and no one would come for him if this went south. He was to make the signal to hand the lighter off for some one else to set the first spark.
And then he head meet the girl they choose and knew he was lost. This brave girl who refused to be afraid, he would make her the symbol and he would lose it all to do it. She was so perfect.
But he hadn't expected the boy. He was all wrong for what they needed. He was from a district that supported the capitol; he was large and never had been mistreated. Then Cinna learned that it was all a lie, a white sheet covering a bloody body.
He was just as perfect, just as much of a revolutionary. Together these two children would be his symbols. They would be the spark. So Cinna did what he had been sent to do, he started whispers. He made sure that the entire country loved Katniss and Cato.
He made plans for his Mockingjay. For the two birds that would become a creature the capitol never intended to exist, his large blond Jabberjay and his wild fiery mocking bird.
He hated the mines, he felt like he was dying every time he went down there. The air escaped his lungs with each foot and he was crushed alive. Gale woke up screaming most nights. He dreamed he was crushed in those mines, where his father was buried.
The air was poisoned above ground as well. The forest was not the sanctuary it had once been. Katniss was no longer herself. He couldn't talk to her any more she didn't hear his words. She disappeared into worlds in her head that he could never go. The air between them grew sour.
Rory was too little to listen or understand. But his little brother was not too little to die. So he took him hunting and tried to tune it out when Rory would talk about Cato. So Gale kept his mouth shut and felt the words strangle him.
The girls at school and in town didn't understand why he had stopped. It had been a year since he had taken up with one of them and a few were bothering him for another go. They would flip their hair and press themselves against him asking for the kisses he used to give so freely. But nothing was free; it had been a silly illusion. So he refused, not just for love of Katniss. The whispers stung.
Gale avoided Cato. Not just because he hated the other boy, but because he wanted to know. Gale ached to know what it was like, what had happened to his friend. He knew if he was near Cato he would beg and Gale would never beg for as long as he lived. So he was left with unanswered questions.
Just when it was all too much, when his chest could crush him even above ground, she came to him in the forest. She was the last person that should have been there. Madge Undersee with her blond hair that glittered in sunlight and one of two girls who had never asked him for a kiss.
"I know how to keep my mouth shut." She told him in that cold tone of hers. "And Katniss would be sad if her best friend went insane."
So he told her things. Not all of it. But parts of it. Slowly the air got a little thinner and just a bit sweeter.
He looked at the paper in his hands and knew that they had punished the wrong person. His cousin's death would not affect the broken boy her son had become, but it would affect Brutus. They had killed Cato's mother to make a point. And the boy would never even know.
Brutus was now Cato's legal guardian and his only family. Because Brutus would never tell him, would never let Cato learn what his actions had done. What his choice for the district twelve girl had done to his mother and sentenced his baby brother to. Brutus would just have to hope that genetics ran true and that he could get more than one cousin through the arena alive.
He sat in his rose garden and pondered the issues. How to extinguish the girl on fire and bring the brutal to heel? How to break them?
"When do you get to be called a man?" Rory asked him after training that day. Cato was startled by the question but Rory tended to pull things out of thin air.
"I think people call you a man when you have done something grown up." Cato answered as he bent to collect some of the crude weapons he had the kids practice with.
"That sounds hard." Rory scrunched up his face in distaste.
"Incredibly." Cato sounded hollow even to himself.
Chapter 35: More
Things were different now. Katniss had seen his sins and she still held his hand when no one was looking or when they were in the woods. In public they never touched or rarely looked in each other's eyes, but when the lights went out things changed.
Katniss would sit outside with him and hold parts of the engine waiting for him to be finished, on a few occasions he would even take more time than he needed just to watch her get fussy. Afterwards they would go into his room where he had pushed the bed up to the window with the pillows closest to the open window.
They would lie side by side and stare up at the stars as the crisp air blew in. Most nights they would hold hands and say nothing. Other nights Katniss would curl into him and bury her head in his shoulder. A few nights they would talk about the things that had been good and bad that day. And a couple of very special nights they had started up what they had first begun in the woods.
The first day had been this month's parcel day. The kids were so hyper that Cato had dismissed them early so they could go play and have some of their new snacks. Katniss always liked parcel day. She would smile and pick at flowers around town. It had taken Cato a while to figure out that she was happy her pain had at least caused some good.
That night when they watched the stars Katniss did it with a smile on her face. Cato was again struck by that intangible quality that only Katniss had. That time he had not pulled her towards him but instead leaned over to cover her. Neither were so desperate as the first time so they were able to slowly explore this new thing.
They took turns learning each other's face and neck and finding the small places that brought on gasps. Katniss wiggled when he bit her ears and sighed when he kissed her collarbone or the hallow at her throat. Cato found that his hair was sensitive and a gentle tug did warm things but a forceful one sent spikes of pleasure down his spine.
The second time Katniss had an awful day. Cato was never quite sure what had happened but the truth of it was written all over her face. She was angry at something and she refused to talk about it. So she took her anger out on his body. She dug her nails into his shoulders and bit him repeatedly. She shoved at him and before either of them really knew it layers had been removed.
It would have been amusing if Cato hadn't been on the verge of insanity at that moment. They were both out of their boots and jackets but some how he had pulled off Katniss's pants so that she could press closer to him. Cato had lost his shirt in that particular battle. His arms, chest and back were covered in bright red scratched by the time Haymitch banged on the door and shouted something about not wanting to be a grandparent just yet. That had been the hardest time to send her home.
The third time wasn't like the others at all. They had been talking about all the kids in the district and their silly antics. Cato was laughing when Katniss leaned over called him cute and kissed his nose. There was laughing that time and he learned he was ticklish but so was she.
Cato was glad about these changes. He had no name for this thing between them but it was the best part of his life. He didn't even mind the pain he was left with after each time. There were ways to take care of that sensation and endangered no one. So he took matters into his own hands at night after Katniss would creep back over to her house.
"Have you seen Posey?" Mrs. Hawthorne looks around a bit frantic but not yet panicked.
"Faster!" The little girl's voice could be heard down the lane.
"I think we just found her." Katniss spotted them before Mrs. Hawthorne. Posey was riding on Cato's shoulders with her small hands twisted in his hands and kicking his chest. Cato gave no sign that any of this bothered him.
Katniss was still not completely sure when it had happened but Cato had turned into the town babysitter. True he was still holding his official training sessions several times a week. But young and younger kids were being dropped off with their siblings. Last week Katniss had caught four small boys trailing behind Cato in the victor village as they looked for acorns.
"Posey Hawthorne! You get off that boy right this instant!" Her mother yelled.
"It no trouble ma'am." Cato interjected before the toddler could start screaming.
"But Momma, I can see for every from up here!" Posey called out in delight.
"Are you sure Cato? It's almost her bed time." Mrs. Hawthorne asked nervously. The children had taken to him but there were still many parents who had vivid memories of his games. And Gale was not a huge fan of Cato to boot.
"I'm Cato's favorite!" Posey exclaimed. "Tell her!"
"She might be exaggerating." Cato had such a blank face that it was hard not to laugh. Mrs. Hawthorne gave Katniss a look as she was consumed in a fit of giggles.
"Alright but only five more minutes, then you are going to bed missey." Mrs. Hawthorne pointed at her daughter. Posey caught on to what that meant and quickly formed an escape plan.
"Run Cato! Momma wants me to go night night!" Posey kicked had his chest until with a small sigh and matching smile Cato took off at a jog. He reached the end of the lane and turned around. Katniss could hear Posey screaming that he was going the wrong way. He turned around and went back but reversed at the end of the lane again.
When the five minutes were up Cato came back and deposited the happy little girl in her mother's arms and walked over to Katniss. He was breathing just a bit harder than he normally did and she was surprised to realize that he must have really been trying to go quickly to get winded.
"I might have lied a little when I said she was exaggerating." Cato smiled at the look Katniss must have been giving him. It was moments like this that Katniss was thrown by the changes in Cato. She could still remember the cold and distant boy she had first met on the roof and given her the arrows. The boy in front of her, the one she felt like kissing, was some one else completely.
And for some reason it didn't matter that they were in the center of the Seam and half the town was going home right now. It didn't matter that she was sure there would be whispers and mean words later. Katniss wanted to kiss him, now here, no matter who was watching.
Taking a cue from Cato, Katniss grabbed his neck and pulled him down for one very worth wile kiss. She heard a whistle near by and some one cat called. Katniss felt a blush rise to her face and pulled back from the kiss. But it was worth it because in that moment there was something in Cato's eyes that made up for all the gossip they would have to weather.
I have seen that look before. Katniss thought. Only this time I'm not scared of what it means.
Chapter 36: Confession
Undersee was getting better at hunting but she still stomped around like a bear in the forest so he heard her coming all the way from the valley. She had snares in her hands and was looking rather pleased with herself she came across him.
"So this is where you have been hiding." She said looking at him.
"I am not hiding." Gale told her, but it sounded like a lie even to him.
"Oh so the fact that your mother, brothers and sister all saw the love of your life kiss another boy would have nothing to do with the fact that you slept out here?" Undersee pointed at the blankets and supplies that betrayed him.
"She isn't the love of my life." Gale snapped back.
"What would you prefer instead? Soul mate? Partner?" Undersee had an edge of venom in her voice. "Or is more along the lines of sister?"
"Who died and made you queen bitch?" Gale did not want to do this right now. It was his day off; he was in the woods and close to forgetting all of it. But stupid Madge Undersee would not leave him alone.
"I have always been the queen bitch, its just no one was paying attention. I am the great invisible bitch." Madge laughed and Gale was confused where this conversation was going. "But I was paying attention. I see it all and you don't get to lie to me, because I have seen the truth."
"What truth is that?"
"Now where would the fun be if I was the one you admitted it?" Madge smiled and then promptly ignored him. She did a full body turn so her back was to him and sat down to fiddle with the ropes.
Gale wanted to scream.
"I do love her." He growled but Undersee didn't even pause. "She is the only one that matters and she is mine."
"Hmm." Madge hummed.
"They took her from me!" He was surprised by how loud his shout was.
"Feel any better?" She asked when he was silent for a few moments.
"No." Gale didn't feel any better because he hadn't said it all.
"How about the whole truth this time?" Madge titled her head. "Lay it on my Hawthorne I wont sing."
"I was never going to marry her. It was never going to be the two of us in the end. I had been too lose with my affections for her to ever consider my devotion true." Gale paused and looked up at the blue sky that now reminded him of other things. "She was already half in love with Mellark back when we met. Looking back I can see it clear as day. She watched him and he watched her. I used to stand to block them after school but still they would lock eyes for a second."
"And?" He wanted to strangle Madge for interrupting.
"And it didn't matter that I love her the wrong way, that my need to posses her has so little to do with who she is and more to do with what she is. I got to have the other girls and Katniss at the same time. The girl who was everything my father would have wanted for me but not what I wanted for myself."
"And what do you want for yourself?" She asked when he hadn't said anything for a long time.
"I want some one I can come home to." It was the raw truth that ate at him at night. That no matter how much he loved Katniss she would never be that thing he secretly hoped and dreamed about. She would never be the one to greet him with a kiss and just make everything better by being there.
Gale had wanted so badly for it to be her. She had been the first person to fill the void his father left. To be is real friend. She was the only girl who hadn't just seen his face and body when she looked at him. So he had hung his hat on the idea of her. On the idea that he could make it work, if he just had the time.
But the older they got the harder it was to deny that something was missing. That she would just nod when he got angry and not ever try to understand why he was upset. Katniss would listen but she rarely heard. He could tell her everything and she would only hear half of it because she would tune most of it out.
"That was the truth." Madge pointed and gave a small smile that clicked something in the back of Gale's brain.
"I have always been more partial to blondes." It was worth the embarrassment if only for the look on her face.
"The next time you try to tease me I am going to shoot you in the knee." Madge stood collecting her ropes.
"Who said I was joking?" Gale wondered aloud trying for a look of innocence. She huffed and stormed off. "Good bye Madge." He shouted after her.
"Shut up Gale!" Madge shouted back at him.
Gale left the clearing feeling a little bit better than he had when he arrived the night before. Now the real question was what to do with Madge?
And how was he going to make Cato's life difficult just for fun?
Chapter 37: What to Expect
He was having a really hard time convincing himself that it would be a bad idea to throw the timing chain across the yard. Haymitch had once again removed something but this time he had been cleverer and Cato was two hours into work and still couldn't find the missing piece.
"I am just going to stand over here while you take it out on the car." Katniss said backing away from where he stood.
"No it's fine. You wanted to know about the Victory Tour, anything in particular?" Cato leaned in and tried for a nasal he had missed earlier.
"All of it?" Katniss sat on the back steps several yards away from him.
"What has Haymitch told you?" Cato asked trying to adjust the battery connection to no avail. He turned to see Katniss giving him a look that spoke volumes. "Right, nothing." Katniss nodded.
"Basic stuff. You start here and head to lower number districts with the big finish in the capitol. Each district requires either a speech or public appearance plus some kind of large social event. They are going to take a lot of pictures." Cato shrugged. "Try not to throw the furniture too much, they got mad when I did that. Also breaking limbs of peacemakers is seriously frowned upon."
"Was any of that on purpose?" Katniss wondered aloud.
"Some of it." Cato smiled a bit, but he knew it wouldn't reach his eyes. He had still been in the grips of his nightmares then. They kept him so sedated that it was harder to tell reality from ghosts and that made it worse. He would have rage fits over things no one had said or feel hands that weren't there.
Yet despite his clearly fractured mental state they had pushed on. Each district more exhausting than the next. Cato pushed those thoughts from his mind he wasn't that person any more he was better now.
"Are you going to come with me?" Katniss asked. Now that stopped Cato. He turned to look at her and was punched in the gut by the look on her face. It was so familiar to him and yet on her, it was so wrong. Katniss should never know that kind of worry.
"As if they could stop me." He walked over and brushed one grease covered thumb across her cheekbone. Katniss smiled at him and that concern and worry left his face.
"I don't know if I could do it without you." She admitted shyly.
"Haymitch has made it clear that you can do anything with or without the rest of us. It's one of his favorite rants." Cato reminded her. Katniss scrunched up her face in disgust and effectively smeared the grease further.
A high pitch wail came from inside the house. It startled them both. They were still not used to the noise that the telephones made when they rang. Of course Haymitch knew what it was and started yelling from somewhere in the house.
"If that doesn't stop in five second I will rip it off the wall again!" Cato was used to the threat, this was their third phone since he had moved here five months ago.
"I have to get that." Cato told Katniss and ran into the house to grab the phone before it could begin shrieking again. "Hello?"
"Good I was hoping you would answer." Cinna's smooth voice leaked out of the earpiece.
"Cinna." Cato wasn't really sure what one said on the phone.
"There have been a few developments in the capitol I thought you might want to know about." The way he said it told Cato that something was wrong and that it was going to be another read between the lines kind of conversation.
"Oh anything good?" Cato asked.
"There hasn't been a picture of you and Katniss in several weeks. All the pictures show only one of you." Cinna was trying to convey something but Cato couldn't get it.
"That's odd we were rarely out in public with out the other." Cato could only think of a handful of times after the games and most of those had been public appearances.
"I thought so as well. And a friend of mine who works in the board room noted the change first." Cinna said it casually but the words struck like knives in his veins. That was the reason Cinna was calling, to warn them that the plan was slipping or being negated.
"While I have you on the phone do you think you could see what kind of engagement rings Platinum offers for me." Cato could only think of one way to guarantee neither of them went back on the boards.
"I am sure I could get the best selection sent out so that you can choose one personally." Cinna offered but Cato had a better idea.
"I am going to be coming for the Victory Tour; I might make a personal visit to see the whole selection." That way everyone could see him in the store looking for rings. It might even be a good idea to let the press know to follow him that day. But Cato was sure Cinna would handle that part at least.
"That would be best. Well, give Haymitch and Katniss my love." Cinna hung up and Cato stared at the phone for a moment. He walked back outside to find Katniss still sitting on the steps.
"We need to sober Haymitch up." He told her and went back into the house.
"Who was that?" Katniss asked following him into the house and up stairs to where Haymitch was currently holed up.
"Cinna, and this is a talk he needs to be awake for." Cato paused at the bathroom. "He had the white stuff get the bucket." Katniss picked up the bucket that Cato now kept by the bathroom door in case of emergencies. They didn't have to go much farther to find Haymitch, who was currently asleep in the middle of the halway.
Cato had been making a small effort to keep the house clean enough to live in but Haymitch was not helping. He tended to throw up all over the place. Then Cato would hide the booze and try to clean or at least throw things away. At which point Haymitch would sober up and steal something off the engine. There was no throw up yet so they were in the middle of that cycle.
He too the bucket from Katniss and dumped the water on Haymitch and then jumped back a foot. Cato grabbed Katniss at the last second and pulled her with him so that when Haymitch came roaring up he missed both of them with his knife.
"Charming, why the hell am I wet?" Haymitch shouted.
"They are going to put one or both of us back on the boards." Cato learned that with Haymitch it was best to cut to the chase.
"What?" It was a unison question from Haymitch and Katniss.
"Cinna called. Said they are only publishing photos of us separately for the last few months and that the boardrooms have taken notice." Cato needed this to sink in faster.
"Well shit." Haymitch rolled over and burped.
"How long do we have to fix this?" Cato demanded.
"Hell if I know there could be invitation on the next train as far as we know." Haymitch muttered unhappily.
"But the Victory Tour is only a few weeks away. The prep team will be here in days." Katniss had a confused look that Cato was having trouble placing.
"Well then they are going to wait until after you are pretty and hairless." Haymitch thought about for a second. "Victory Tour is now our danger zone."
"What do we do?" Cato asked.
"Let me eat and think and then come up with a plan." Haymitch groaned and got up. "Get me something dry to wear." As Cato walked off to find Haymitch some clean dry clothes he could hear Katniss and him having a conversation.
"I won't be sold Haymitch." Katniss's tone was pure steel.
"I am going to try to stop them sweetheart, but if it comes down your pride or your family you pick your family." Haymitch commanded. Cato knew what he was saying and he also knew that the capitol would not get the satisfaction. All he needed was Katniss to agree.
Cato came back with clothes and they all ended up in the kitchen making a valiant effort to feed Haymitch. And when they were all settled and Haymitch had eaten most of what they had slapped together it was time to think.
"I told Cinna I was going to buy an engagment ring when we come to the capitol." Cato spat out before Haymitch could begin.
"Charming, I am really liking this initiative I am seeing from you." Haymitch stuffed toast in his mouth. "How do you feel about that sweetheart?"
"What is an engagement ring?" Katniss looked between the two of them.
"Old tradition. The Capitol and the better off districts bought it back. Men buy an expensive ring for the woman they are going to marry. She wears the ring for a while before they get married and then adds a second ring once they are married." Haymitch explained.
"Are you asking me to marry you?" Katniss looked at Cato and he knew all the blood in his body had moved to his face.
"No, not really. Not unless you want me to. It was for show." Cato mumbled.
"It would have to be real eventually." Haymitch shook his head. "They made both of you too memorable for them to ever take you off completely without the real deal." Haymitch thought about something and shushed Katniss when she tried to speak. "I am going to go have a chat with Sue."
"Why?" Cato and Katniss asked in unison.
"The two of you need to be publicly living together." Haymitch told them before leaving without any further explanation. Cato sat there silently with Katniss for a while neither of them sure what to say.
"We don't have to if you don't want to." Cato felt himself say the words more than think them. But it was true. He had put the suggestion out there to save them both from a horrible fate, but now he was starting to put together some of the larger ramifications. Like living with Katniss and sleeping with her.
"No, it's not that." Katniss turned a bright red that sent heat to his own face and another place.
"Oh. Good." Cato answered feeling completely useless. "I am going to go see about the engine."
"I think Prim had some sewing she needed help with." Katniss rushed out and then ran out the back door. Now having nothing else to do Cato did get back to his engine.
Several hours later Haymitch returned looking worse for wear and muttering to himself. He handed Cato a very tiny part out of his pocket, which must have been the missing piece.
"Tomorrow you move over there. We start uping the game as well." Haymitch told him.
"Understood." Cato replied feeling a thousand different things.
"It never ends." Haymitch said mostly to no one and then walked inside leaving Cato to contemplate the coming month.
Chapter 38: Prep
He was man enough to admit that he was terrified of the woman in front of him.
"No funny business." Sue Everdeen glared down at him. Cato was a good foot taller than her and she was some how glaring down her nose at thim.
"No ma'am." Cato shook is head.
"And you will have all of your clothes on at all times except when showering. We clear?" Cato nodded in agreement. She took the small bag filled with his belongings and marched up the stairs. He was aware of where Katniss's room was but had never been in it.
Mrs. Everdeen set is bag in the empty half of the closet and Cato took a moment to take the room in. He had not been expecting the delicate and feminine wallpaper that covered the room in dandelions. The bed and chair were covered in soft quilts in a hundred pale shades.
This was not the room he had been expecting. It was all wrong for Katniss for some reason. Nowhere were the deep earth tones he associated with her or the vibrant colors that reminded him of her.
"What do you think?" Prim asked coming up next to him. "I did it all myself."
"It has something." Cato told her because he wasn't sure what his response was supposed to be.
"I know." Prim said in a way that let him know she heard what he hadn't said. "But she does like dandelions."
"I had noticed that." Cato smiled at Prim just as Mrs. Everdeen came back.
"I am not happy about this, do you understand. It's way too young for any of this." Mrs. Everdeen gestured towards the bed and Cato.
"Yes." Cato agreed but there was no arguing with the capitol.
"Thank you, for keeping her safe." Mrs. Everdeen wrapped him in a stern hug and then pulled back. "But don't for a second think I won't poison you if you hurt my daughter."
"Mom!" Prim shouted in shock.
"Understood." Cato was then left to unpack his things in his new room. The room he would be sharing with Katniss. This was going to be difficult.
The prep team was early, by weeks. But Octavia mentioned something about Cinna wanting a bunch of promotional photos taken over the next few weeks. It wasn't until Flavious quiet literally roped Cato into another room for this own prep that Katniss understood what they were really going to be doing for the next week.
They needed to be a couple in the eyes of the country, and some one was trying to stop that image. This was their defense. So Katniss remained silent while they removed her body hair and put funny treatments on her skin. She had six different baths and soaks until they finally were happy with the results.
"No." Came Cato's booming voice from the other room.
"Not a full polish of course but let us just take and edge of some of them, blend the skin a bit." Flavius begged.
"If you try to get rid of the scars I will just take a knife to them and put them back." Cato informed the other man.
"Ha!" Katniss now realized that Haymitch was in the other room as well. Poking her head she got an eye full of Cato in his underwear having an argument with Flavious while Haymitch sat in a near by chair.
"Sweetheart, you have got to see this. These two need to do a stand up routine in the capitol." Haymitch urged her to join him and patted the chair next to him. Katniss pulled the robe around her tighter and walked in to sit next to Haymitch.
"Not even that one on your eyebrow or on your chin? It would clean up your entire face." Flavius reached out like he was going to touch Cato, who in turn stepped back.
"I will pull out your fancy earrings and use them to make more scars if you say one more word about it." Cato was clearly not in the mood.
"You might want to step in soon I think your boy toy might kill this one." Haymitch muttered with a giggle.
"Flavius, did Cinna say anything about the scars?" Katniss asked the man.
"No, he didn't" Flavius snapped looking ruffled.
"Well why don't you just leave them alone for now and come back to them later if Cinna says something." She suggested.
"I suppose." Flavius admitted defeat and left the room. Cato stood glaring at Haymitch.
"You were no help." Cato accused the man.
"I don't know what you are talking about, I was buckets of help." Haymitch laughed.
"I am going to dump out all the rum again." Cato threatened.
"Ha! You don't live with me any more!" Haymitch bit back.
"You don't lock your doors." Cato smiled evily.
"I don't think we are friends anymore." Haymitch said grumpily and stalked out of the room.
Cato sank into the chair next to her and laid out his hand with the palm facing up. He did that when he wanted to be held. Cato would never ask for it but his body did. When he wanted to sit closer he would angle a certain way and then just wait. Once when he had a particularly horrible day he had simply pulled her onto his lap but today he just needed her hand.
"Why did he want to get rid of your scars?" Katniss asked after a long minute her fingers rubbing against the scar line on his knuckles. Something about that motion soothed him at times.
"They think it will be harder to show us as a loving couple if I look like a battle crazied lunatic." Cato muttered darkly.
"How many were they going to take off?" Katniss understood where the anger came from. Cato had admitted that the scars were his failsafe, the thing that kept him sane. When he would have flash back or spikes of anger the scars reminded him that it was over and that he was healing.
"All the visible ones on my face and neck." There was murder in his eyes. While not the most heavily scared area it was in the top three places he had taken the most damage in the arena.
"Try not to break too many bones the next time he asks okay?" Katniss have his hand a reassuring squeeze just as Venia and Octavia burst into the room babbling about wardrobe and the camera crew coming soon. They took her from the room so quickly that she had no time to look back at Cato.
Katniss did not see him for another several hours. The prep team ran through all her outfits and took photos of her in a tiny camera so they could remember how they liked her hair best in each outfit. Once that was done they spent a good hour putting on very subtle make up and dressed her a rather pretty but warm winter dress.
The dress was actually quiet short but Katniss's legs were covered in thick cloth her prep team called leggings and high boots. The end effect was that she looked pretty but was incredibly warm. The team shooed her out the door where she found an expertly dressed Cato having words with Haymitch.
"I am not throwing snow, that makes no sense." Cato grumbled. Something about today was making him grumpy but for some reason Katniss only found this funny. In the capitol he had bored being dressed all the time with silent anger but now he was letting his concerns be heard.
"Not snow a snowball. Big difference." Haymitch put the round lump of snow in Cato's hand. "Just try it out."
Cato looked at the snow as if he wished he could melt it with his mind. Then with more force than made sense he threw the ball, and hit one of the cameramen square in the face.
There was no containing their laughter. Well at least Haymitch and Katniss had a hard time containing it. Haymitch was on the ground when they realized the man now had a nosebleed. Katniss remained standing but only barely. Cato glowered the entire time.
The nose bleed brought out Prim and her mother who quickly chastised Katniss and Haymitch for laughing at some one else pain, it made Haymitch laugh harder. By the time everything was fixed the sun was setting. The camera team insisted on at least getting some shots.
It was a mess. They kept saying that Katniss and Cato didn't seem to be able to get the same look that they had back in the capitol. Every pose came off wrong or too stiff. It took them a decent amount of time before they gave in and listened to Haymitch's urging to just let them sit and talk and take photos as they did that.
"How many quilts do you have on your bed?" Cato asked in an attempt to start a conversation.
"Three why?" Katniss wasn't sure where this was going.
"Your mom made me promise to always have all my clothes on. I was just wondering how hot it would get." Cato gave her one of his lopsided smiles and Katniss reached out for his hand.
"Don't worry I have cold hands and feet." Katniss tried to ignore the sound of the camera shutters but they crept into the back of her mind. "I can't focus with them here."
"I might be able to fix that." Cato said it deadpan but only meant it was dangerous. He only put inflection in his sentences when he was kidding; when he was serious there was no emotion.
Cato pulled her by the neck for one of his edgy kisses. His kisses had flavors. Some times they tasted like flowers and felt like spring. Other times they were all fire and need. But the edgy ones were the most dangerous because they pulled at something in her that she couldn't identify.
"We got it." One of the cameramen shouted and then the others stopped and started to put their cameras away. It was still a moment longer before Cato broke away.
He was right. That night both of them were way too hot and itchy in their skin. Katniss hated having to sleep with so many clothes on and Cato rolled around on the small bed almost constantly.
"I am taking something off." Katniss growled angrily after the first three hours of no sleep. "We tell no one."
"Agreed." Cato pulled off his shirt and sleep pants so fast it would have been funny if Katniss had not been ripping off her pants with likewise speed. They kicked off the top quilt and both let out happy sighs of relief when they lay back down. Sweet darkness finally came.
She got up to get a glass of water in the middle of the night. Coming back upstairs Prim saw that Katniss had left her door ajar. She reached to close the door but paused when she saw them.
They were curled together in a way that pulled at Prim's heart. Katniss lay on her side with an arm tucked under her head. Cato was curled around her from behind. On arm was wrapped tightly around Katniss and one of his legs wedged between her thighs. The covers had sliped off.
Prim tip toed into the room and raised the blankets back over them. The change caused Cato to bury his face deeper into Katniss' hair. Prim smiled and crept out and closed the door.
It wasn't until the next morning that she knew there would be no more nightmares as long as Cato was there.
Chapter 39: Eleven
He barely remembered the place; the drugs had been the heaviest during the tour. But he did remember the over active peacekeepers and their tendency to try and push him around. He would need to stop that early. Cato punched the first one that tried to shove him, well him and Katniss. But it would be better if they knew not to push either of them.
Cato didn't like the armored car they made everyone get in. He almost agreed with Effie's squeals of disapproval. Something was wrong here. It was on the faces of the peacekeepers and in the shake that their weapons showed the longer he stared. This was not a safe place, this was not district twelve with its lax watch dogs.
The normal routine had been adapted for Katniss. Cato would say a few words first to introduce her and then she would give her speech. But it didn't work out quiet like that.
He was fine the whole way to the stage, and up until the point that they put him in front of the podium. Then he just knew it was different this time. He saw the families and now knew what a family was supposed to be. So he said something he was never supposed to say.
"I'm sorry your children were murdered." That was it. The only words that left his mouth on that stage. He stood there for a moment as the entire district looked at him in shock and then he was walking a back to stand next to a dumbfounded Haymitch.
No body moved for a long while and then some one was trying to shoo them off the stage and Katniss seemed to come back to herself and pushed to the podium.
"Wait!" Katniss yelled out. "Wait please!" Cato held is breath hoping that maybe she wouldn't be as big of a mess as he was. "I want to give my thanks to the tributes of district eleven." Katniss looks back at them for a second and then continues. "I only every spoke to Thresh one time. Just long enough for him to spare my life. I didn't know him, but I always respected him. For his power. For his refusal to play the Games on anyone's terms but his own. The careers wanted him to team up with them from the beginning, but he wouldn't do it. I respected him for that."
"But I feel as if I did know Rue, and she'l always be with me. Everything beautiful brings her to mind. I see her in the yellow flowers that grow in the Meadow by my house. I see her in the mockingjays that sing in the trees. But Most of all, I see her in my sister, Prim." Katniss pauses and makes eye contact with the largest girl in the family. "Thank you for your children. And thank you all for the bread."
Cato would never be sure how he knew something was coming but he had locked eyes with the man in the crowd before he even let out that four not whistle. Cato can see it in that man's eyes that he knows what comes next and that there was a reason none of the younger members of the crowd gave the signal for the salute.
Cato does the only thing he can think to do, he nods at the man and a small smile passes between the two of them. He doesn't flinch when the gun goes off because Cato catches the eye of the man who pulled the trigger. The peacekeeper doesn't understand and stares back for a moment but then something in Cato's eyes must finally click because he turns away quickly and starts shouting.
Effie is yelling at the treatment but no really listens to her because everyone else knows what just happened. What is still happening outside the justice building.
"Good one monster mash." Haymitch says to Cato later when he is rather drunk.
Cinna smiles sadly and clasps a hand on Cato's shoulder before going up to bed.
In the darkness that night Katniss trembles in a state between anger and grief. "We did something horrible." She whispers to him.
"No. They did." Cato corrects her.
The next morning they are pushed onto the train with great haste, but not before Cato gets the chance to injure a few of the peacekeepers. He knows he looks half crazed by the time they get him into the train. Katniss is sick with worry and runs off but Cinna takes a moment to speak with him.
"What were you thinking when you watched that man for so long?" Cinna asks referring to the peacekeeper.
"It was something between monsters." Cato isn't sure he understands the look on Cinna's face, but later when Cinna comes to him with news of unrest Cato starts to put things together. Little things at first, but they are little things that hint at something bigger. Something revolutionary.
We are going to be having some short drabble chapters again. I know you bitches got so spoiled, well that's over. You are getting tiny chapter for each district. And maybe in a few chapters I will post the first SponsorXship chapter. That's the separate post with the dirty stuff.
Also you need to go to tumblr Peeniss0314/Katie got bored and made some motivational things for me today. They are funny. Plus there is going to be the chapter 5 graphic. No seriously why aren't you on that website yet? And why aren't you following Bookbabble & Sponsorhsipcatoniss? -E
Chapter 40: Eleven
He barely remembered the place; the drugs had been the heaviest during the tour. But he did remember the over active peacekeepers and their tendency to try and push him around. He would need to stop that early. Cato punched the first one that tried to shove him, well him and Katniss. But it would be better if they knew not to push either of them.
Cato didn't like the armored car they made everyone get in. He almost agreed with Effie's squeals of disapproval. Something was wrong here. It was on the faces of the peacekeepers and in the shake that their weapons showed the longer he stared. This was not a safe place, this was not district twelve with its lax watch dogs.
The normal routine had been adapted for Katniss. Cato would say a few words first to introduce her and then she would give her speech. But it didn't work out quite like that.
He was fine the whole way to the stage, and up until the point that they put him in front of the podium. Then he just knew it was different this time. He saw the families and now knew what a family was supposed to be. So he said something he was never supposed to say.
"I'm sorry your children were murdered." That was it. The only words that left his mouth on that stage. He stood there for a moment as the entire district looked at him in shock and then he was walking a back to stand next to a dumbfounded Haymitch.
No body moved for a long while and then some one was trying to shoo them off the stage and Katniss seemed to come back to herself and pushed to the podium.
"Wait!" Katniss yelled out. "Wait please!" Cato held his breath hoping that maybe she wouldn't be as big of a mess as he was. "I want to give my thanks to the tributes of district eleven." Katniss looks back at them for a second and then continues. "I only every spoke to Thresh one time. Just long enough for him to spare my life. I didn't know him, but I always respected him. For his power. For his refusal to play the Games on anyone's terms but his own. The careers wanted him to team up with them from the beginning, but he wouldn't do it. I respected him for that."
"But I feel as if I did know Rue, and she'll always be with me. Everything beautiful brings her to mind. I see her in the yellow flowers that grow in the Meadow by my house. I see her in the mockingjays that sing in the trees. But most of all, I see her in my sister, Prim." Katniss pauses and makes eye contact with the largest girl in the family. "Thank you for your children. And thank you all for the bread."
Cato would never be sure how he knew something was coming but he had locked eyes with the man in the crowd before he even let out that four not whistle. Cato can see it in that man's eyes that he knows what comes next and that there was a reason none of the younger members of the crowd gave the signal for the salute.
Cato does the only thing he can think to do, he nods at the man and a small smile passes between the two of them. He doesn't flinch when the gun goes off because Cato catches the eye of the man who pulled the trigger. The peacekeeper doesn't understand and stares back for a moment but then something in Cato's eyes must finally click because he turns away quickly and starts shouting.
Effie is yelling at the treatment but no one really listens to her because everyone else knows what just happened. What is still happening outside the justice building.
"Good one monster mash." Haymitch says to Cato later when he is rather drunk.
Cinna smiles sadly and clasps a hand on Cato's shoulder before going up to bed.
In the darkness that night Katniss trembles in a state between anger and grief. "We did something horrible." She whispers to him.
"No. They did." Cato corrects her.
The next morning they are pushed onto the train with great haste, but not before Cato gets the chance to injure a few of the peacekeepers. He knows he looks half crazed by the time they get him into the train. Katniss is sick with worry and runs off but Cinna takes a moment to speak with him.
"What were you thinking when you watched that man for so long?" Cinna asks referring to the peacekeeper.
"It was something between monsters." Cato isn't sure he understands the look on Cinna's face, but later when Cinna comes to him with news of unrest Cato starts to put things together. Little things at first, but they are little things that hint at something bigger. Something revolutionary.
We are going to be having some short drabble chapters again. I know you bitches got so spoiled, well that's over. You are getting tiny chapter for each district. And maybe in a few chapters I will post the first SponsorXship chapter. That's the separate post with the dirty stuff.
Also you need to go to tumblr Peeniss0314/Katie got bored and made some motivational things for me today. They are funny. Plus there is going to be the chapter 5 graphic. No seriously why aren't you on that website yet? And why aren't you following Bookbabble & Sponsorhsipcatoniss? -E
Chapter 41: Ten
Before you read this chapter you are going to send a message to Dokinchan (ffnet) / moonlightsunshine82 (tumblr) and tell her how happy you are that her surgery went well. I meant it, I want her to come home from the hospital to have messages from all of us. She deserves it. Now back to your regularly scheduled story.
Before you read this chapter you are going to send a message to Dokinchan (ffnet) / moonlightsunshine82 (tumblr) and tell her how happy you are that her surgery went well. I meant it, I want her to come home from the hospital to have messages from all of us. She deserves it. Now back to your regularly scheduled story.
"She hasn't had anything to eat yet." Effie stage whispers to Haymitch. Everyone at the table turned to look at Effie but no one paid Katniss any mind. Food was a touchy subject with her and Effie seemed to be the only one that wasn't aware. This morning when it had become clear that Katniss was not going to be eating her heap of food Cato had started to sneak her food onto the other plates.
She had caught him doing it when he got to the toast. Katniss had placed her hand on his thigh and given it a firm squeeze of thanks. But he did leave a single roll on her plate and waited for her to take the hint and eat it.
Ten was not as bad as Eleven but just as tense. Effie jumped from foot to foot as they were given instructions on the new prewritten speeches. Haymitch was extra surly and sober the entire time they were in the district.
Katniss did better today; she had not allied with any of the kids from this district. The prepared speech sounded wrong but Katniss made it all the way through without saying anything wrong. Cato was not allowed to speak, he could stand next to Katniss at the podium but he was to not say anything.
That night there is a banquet held in their honor, well it's for Katniss but most people have forgotten that Cato didn't win with her. He is a part of the group now and even the other districts can't seem to separate them.
"You two are something else." The mayor says when they walk down the steps to the ballroom. Katniss's gown steals the night with Cinna getting praise from all sides.
Later an angry woman asks for a dance with Cato and it takes him the entire dance to place why she seems familiar.
"That leg didn't stop him from getting very close." Cato tells the mother of the male tribute. She throws a drink in his face and storms away. The peacekeepers that try to go after her find Haymitch in their way.
"I hate it." Katniss says that night ripping the fabric off her. She throws the ball of fabric across the room where it lays in a heap. Cato worries that the victory tour will unravel Katniss.
Chapter 42: Nine -Fuse
The dress was red tonight. It felt a great deal like her first interview dress at first but then she got a better look at the fabric. This dress floated on the air catching up between her legs and around her.
"You brought back the flames." She says to Cinna as he stands off to the side adjusting something on his sleeve.
"I thought you could use some of their strength." Cinna smiles at her and Katniss feels all wobbly inside.
"Thank you. I did." They got to find Cato together and Katniss is glad to have an arm to hold when they find him. Cato is still the person she knows, but his armor has been up during the day. She doesn't mind because her own armor is up as well.
But it slips when he sees the dress. The straps are not so much strapes as they are decoration on her arms. Katniss was surprised to find that the tops of her breasts are almost completely exposed. Now seeing the look on Cato's face makes that exposure not as awful.
Dinner is near impossible to sit through, Cato is across from her and while he is making a good show of it he drops he fork three times and knocks over his water glass when she leans over to get a roll.
Katniss decides that District Nine is not the worst so far.
He alternately wants to kill and kiss Cinna, well maybe not kiss but something. Cato is sure that Cinna picked the dress on purpose. The red is doing wonderful things to her skin and the cut.
Cato isn't going to talk or think about the cut of the dress until after dinner is over. Sure he has seen her in low cut dresses before, but things are different now. He knows how she feels in his arms pressed against him. He knows the hunger that comes with that feeling. And now the hunger that comes with sight alone.
It takes more out of him that he knows to make it all the way through dinner that night.
She is not prepared for him.
Katniss closes the bedroom door to find Cato already boxing her in against the door. He braces his hand on either side of the doorframe and leans towards her. An excited thrill runs down her spine.
Cato runs a palm across her collarbone and pauses at her shoulder to rub his thumb into the dimple. There is a tension in the air that was not there before. This time is not going to be quite like the times in his room or in the meadow.
"You are losing weight." He continues tracing the area above her breast and below her neck. It's maddening.
"You are putting it back on." Cato has recently started drinking some think brown beverage in the morning on the trains. He isn't the same mass he was when they first met, but it's coming back.
He smiles and it breaks the stale mate. Katniss is the one to lunge at him wrapping her body around him. The kiss is frantic and wild. They are falling backwards and yet he steers them onto the bed some how.
The red floating fabric surrounds them in a halo of flames and soon Cato's jacket joins the fray. Katniss digs her nails into his shoulders and is frustrated when she finds fabric in her way. She needs skin, wants skin.
Because as his lips blaze trails along her neck and face Katniss can feel the twisted mass in her stomach untangle. The last couple of days fly away with each brush of lips and tongue. But it's not enough.
She slides up so that she can grind against the place that always feels right and moans at the relief it give her. But instead of increasing his activity like in the past Cato stills. He leans up and brushes the hair out of her face. The motion puts him in a sitting position with Katniss straddling his lap.
There is a question in his eyes but all she can think about is making the knot go away and how he is the only one that can do that.
"More." Katniss breathes. The kiss is searing, deep and leaves her gasping.
Before she can even begin to recover Katniss finds that Cato has pushed the top her dress down and is trailing kisses towards her exposed breast. Cato's hand is climbing up her leg under the dress and she is so focused on that hand that she is caught by surprised when his mouth closes around a nipple.
Something between a moan and a gasp escapes her and he moves to the other breast. All the while his hand steadily creeps up her leg towards her heat. Katniss digs her nails into his hair and Cato bites down in response.
She is half bent now, with one of his hands bracing her back and the other now brushing the place that seems to be core of her need. Cato pressed her forward for a kiss and her breasts rub against the stiff fabric of his shirt, she gasps into the kiss.
His thumb has found the spot. As his tongue sweeps into her mouth he pressed down. Shivers break out on her arms. Katniss can't help the rocking motion that her hips take up when he tries to pull away. This continues on for a bit until Katniss knows there is something missing here that she needs.
"Please." She moans in his ear. A deep groan rumbles through Cato's chest causing her nipples to peak with the vibration. He pulls her to him with a hand on her neck and this kiss is everything.
At just the moment when she wants to beg for something again he moves. He pressed down just as two fingers slide into her. Katniss breaks the kiss because a noise bubbles out of her.
The edge is close and one more shove of his fingers gets her so close she can feel the other side. On the next thrust Cato leans in and bites Katniss right at the juncture of her neck and shoulder as his thumb presses.
She sees black. For a spilt second there is nothing. Then its gone and everything is warm and wonderful and painful all at once. Katniss gasps soundlessly and clings to Cato.
With each breath she comes down from whatever fall that was to find that Cato hasn't moved an inch. His face is a mix of fire and that other thing that she doesn't know if she can name yet. When everything settles down Katniss leans in to kiss him.
This is not a frantic kiss or even a deep one, but it is one that says things she doen't have the words for. He returns it and then rolls so that she can lay down. Cato kisses her forehead before going to the bathroom.
Lying there on the bed surrounded by layers of red fabric Katniss finds that the twisted knot in her stomach is gone. Her chest feels lighter.
"Thank you." She tells Cato when he comes back a long while later damp from a shower.
He doesn't say anything, just brushes her hair with his fingers. Katniss falls asleep feeling light and warm in his arms. It's not until the next morning that she wonders if Cato has his own twisted knot and if there was something she should have done to help him.
Chapter 43: 8 7 6 5
The others don't see it but he does. The crowd is moving in a pattern. It hard to see at first but the longer he watched the more clear it becomes that the crowd is trying to conceal its movements.
Cato catches Haymitch's eye and knows that something is going on. They might be slowly telling him bits but there is a big picture here that Cato is putting together and at the center of it stands Katniss and Cato.
She still doesn't really want to eat as much. The sick feeling is gone but the taste of food turned to ash in her mouth. Cinna frowned every time a dress had to be pinned or taken in. But every time Katniss looks at her ribs in worry Cato kisses her hair and one time her ribs.
Katniss doesn't cry at night after meeting the families anymore. A numbness has settled in where the searing agony used to reside. The faces blur in her eyes and she can keep the smile going for longer.
The steel in her spine holds her up for longer now. This isn't so bad. She is stronger than this. They wonk break her, they can weaken her or make her feel fear but nothing will break her. She looks in the mirror and sees fire in her eyes bellow the haze of pain.
"Do you have to be drunk for every public appearance?" Effie shouts at Haymitch. He slurs a yes. But Cato is catching on to the game that is being played. No one likes a sad drunk victor, just the way no one likes a crazy violent victor or a stoney distant victor.
Cato says nothing when he notices that Haymitch is actually drinking grape juice a dinner that night or that there is no champagne in his orange juice the next morning. In return Haymitch acts shocked when Cato rips a door off the hinges the next time a capitol representative asks about his sanity.
He never came to five on his tour. Or at least he never was sober enough to pay attention. But this time there are no drugs in his system and he sees what he missed last time. All the faces here become that little girl's face. He sees here eyes everywhere.
Big green eyes stare at him from every direction and its suffocating to be here. Cato can feel is skin crawling off his bones with each look. They can see my sins, they can see the truth. That I'm a monster.
His knuckles are raw and bloody by the time Katniss finds him. The wall has not fared much better. Cato takes the sting of disinfectant with out a sound. He longs for his engine and for things that break easy under his hands.
But Katniss gives him something else to hold that night and for a while the child sized ghosts leave him in peace.
There is nothing she can do for him, or at least nothing that he will let her do for a long while. He stands there with blood dripping to the floor refusing to even look at her. It doesn't bother Katniss, maybe back when they first met she would have been afraid of him but now Cato is a part of her life and she knows he is hurting.
He only breaks things when he is angry, but he bleeds when it hurts. It is nearly an hour before he lets her pour rubbing alcohol on his hands. He never moves. Katniss feels helpless and she hates the feeling. So she tries something he did for her once.
He comes to the bed without a word. She pulls off his clothes with out a word of protest from Cato. Katniss is too nervous to take anything off herself because she feels exposed already.
The first kiss is lifeless. By the fifth Cato is responding but still not fully there with her. Take a breath to be brave Katniss puts her hand down his pants to wrap around the hard length.
Cato jerks up in response suddenly completely with her. She runs her hand down the velvety length and he clenches his jaw.
"Katniss." Cato's voice is deep and raspy. There is a plea in his tone.
"Yes." She smiles feeling powerful. With each stroke his breath comes out in shallower gasps and his muscles strain. He took her kisses with fever now his hand crushing her hair to her scalp.
With each stroke he grew tenser until finally Katniss increased her speed. Cato shook once, his entire body joining in the movement and something warm spread down her hand.
The relief on Cato's face is worth it. The way he kisses her after makes the stuff on her hand nothing. Katniss knows now that Cato had his own twisted knot and she also knows how to get rid of it.
In the morning they prepare to go to four feeling a bit better.
So next chapter we get a special guest star, Finnick! You may commence the fangirling.
Lastly if you have a Tumblr account please please please get on and vote for me Bookbabble on the poll I posted. I am trying to win a silly mock hunger games but I am very competitive. You should have seen the croquette game I played yesterday, it got violent. Nothing is scared when the word game is involved.
To make matter worse before the most violent game of croquette ever I started my first day of my new work out routine. Everything hurts. I can barely move my arms. Writing hurts. But I am going to be in shape for snowboarding this year. Mountain, I am coming for you!
Come at me bro! -E
Chapter 44: Four
She had never been in a district like this one. The others so far seemed to have a very central point and then branch out from there, Four on the other hand as thousands of tiny settlements along the edge of the water. Some even sat on top of the murky quiet water, entire villages balanced on top of poles in the water.
Katniss saw now why this was a career district, there was no lack of people. This was not the small close knit twelve or the large and disorganized eight. This was a collection of small tribal groups that seemed to be in constant competition with one another.
The justice building faces the ocean. Katniss finds that the peacekeepers aren't watching her closely and she manages to make it to edge of the water. The sand gets into the hem of her dress but she doesn't particularly, even though this is one of her favorites so far. The bird detail across her chest makes her think of the mockingjays.
"The salt will ruin your dress." A strange voice startled Katniss out of her thoughts. The boy is incredibly handsome and wearing nothing but pants. It's funny because Katniss does not feel the same heat with this strange boy that she does with Cato.
"What are you doing here?" She realizes then that she is utterly alone with this boy. Every other person is back in the building.
"I was invited to the party. But now I can't find me shoes." He smiles with a cocky grin. Katniss glances back at the building. "Looking for your shadow?"
"What are you talking about?" Katniss doesn't understand this strange boy.
"Big, blonde, can barely put words together, breaks things when he is angry."
"You mean Cato." Katniss hears the anger in her voice. He doesn't deserve the things people say about him, the way they act like he knows nothing but how to kill. Cato is better than that. Katniss if forming a reply when there is a loud splash from down the beach. The boy turns and runs for the water yelling something.
"Annie your dress!" He shouts running towards the splashing. Katniss can make out a girl that surfaces and then seeing the boy coming for her swims faster away. "Annie!" He sounds tired but at the same time happy.
Katniss makes her way back to the justice building just in time to be scolding for going missing. Of course Effie is the only one who noticed and only she seems upset. Cato and Haymitch are fighting at the bar, or rather Haymitch is saying mean things and Cato stands silently blocking the strong stuff.
It isn't until later that night that Katniss meets the strange boy again. The mayor is making introductions with the boy and a group of people comes over.
"Ms. Everdeen may I present Finnick Odair one of our most noted victors." Suddenly this strange boy is more than that, he is that boy. The one who the capitol loved so much they hand picked him to win, the one who is known for having hundred of lovers. "And with him tonight is another one of our noted victors Ms. Annie Cresta."
This bedraggled girl who almost hides behind Finnick confuses Katniss for a moment. Then she remembers the games where the damn broke and everyone drowned. The mayor leaves just as Cato arrives and the four victors are left alone for a moment.
"Hello shadow." Finnick says with a smile to Cato.
"Hello Finnick." Cato says coolly. "Surprised to see you here." Katniss hears the rest. You didn't come for my tour, why is Katniss special?
"Really? I did receive an invitation, in fact they invited everyone including Maggs." Finnick turns and points to an elderly woman who is sitting at a table near the end of the room. The woman waves when Finnick points and Annie waves back happily.
Music starts up and Finnick hold out his hand to Katniss. She looks around momentarily to see what Cato is doing but he just nods and then does the same motion to Annie who looks worried but takes his hand.
Once they are on the dance floor Finnick pulls her close and leans in to whisper in her ear.
"Be careful. They wont believe you if you don't make them happy." Katniss is not sure what he means until long after the dance ends and Cato and her are back in the room together.
"He means that we need to play at lovers better." Cato says gruffly removing his shoes and throwing them at a very breakable looking lamp. He misses.
"Why? Why would he want to tell me something like that?" Katniss ask. She picks up one of the shoes and gives it a good throw as well. This time it does hit the lamp shattering glass on that side of the room. Katniss give Cato a triumphant smile and he rolls his eyes at her.
"He didn't have some one to claim him right away, or at least no one that the capitol would consider worthy of his beauty." Cato seems sad as he says it. "It's okay for me to be a bit mad, but it wouldn't be if you were."
Katniss's heart sinks as she remembers the sweet Annie who never seemed to leave Finnick's side. How she looked at him constantly even when she was walking and how he seemed to return the motion.
"What should we do?" Katniss asks.
"Haymitch said not to let you make the plans." Cato pulls off his tie. "But he has something in mind."
"I suppose for now I can wait." Katniss forgets about Finnick for a while and spends a while relearning the shape of Cato's mouth.
Finnick is blogging the eggs. Eggs are the only thing not on Cato's plate. This is a set up.
"Where is your person shadow?" Finnick ask cheerily as Cato tries to elbow around him for the eggs.
"Sleeping." Cato finally gets ahold of the serving spoon and begins to pile the eggs on this plate.
"Goodie!" Finnick picks up a sugar cube from next to the tea and pops on in his mouth. "Want a sugar cube?"
"No." There was a game here, but Cato didn't know what it was or what the rules were.
"Everyone thinks she is the popular one." Finnick said it with a smile but something about the way he said it told Cato that there was more here. Finnick had said popular funny. "But from the things I hear you are the one that has the highest attention."
Cato translated. People in power aren't happy with you.
"Snow had mentioned as much." Cato sprinkled pepper over everything on his plate. It had only been a brief moment during the crowning but the president had made it clear that Cato was on the list.
"That's a terrifying thought." Finnick shrugged and meandered off his message clearly delivered. But it got Cato thinking. They had seen no punishment so far, which could only mean something bigger was coming for them.
Maybe not all the Finnick you wanted but there will be more. Calm your self. Three is going to be a tiny chapter. Then we have a ton of stuff coming up after that. I am not sure if some of it is going to be pushed to the capitol or not. Hmm.
Also I wrote this whole chapter while having a terrible headache that seemed to affect my ability to spell. I say this because I still don't have betas. Really people next reviewer to correct me but not be a decent beta gets slapped. You don't get to correct me if you aren't going to help.
Really pretty dress for this chapter on the Tumblr. Check it out. Then leave me your feelings. -E
Chapter 45: Three
I had like twenty minutes. And I was like fuck it, next chapter is going to be silly.
Truly I am amazing. -E
"It's not funny." Monster mash was not pleased, which meant that Haymitch was extremely pleased.
"Yes it is." Haymitch hiccupped between his laughter.
"It hurt." Cato rubbed his hand and glared angrily out the doorway.
"I am sure it did. Betee isn't an inventor for nothing." Haymitch giggled again.
"Maybe he has more." Cato's eyes had taken on an evil glint.
"Wait, no! Come back!" Haymitch tried to get up to go after the boy but tumbled out of the chair backwards. So instead he yelled. "Betee, don't give him one of your shockers!" When there was no response Haymitch got worried. "Betee! Did you taze him or did he break you?"
Haymitch was now starting to get actually worried and ran out of the room yelling. "Don't break him! We need him for things!"
She was not going to ask. And that night when both Cato and Haymitch turned up with spikey and frizzy hair she didn't say anything then.
Nor did she ask when she saw the red splotches on Cato that looked slightly like burns. She did however raise her eyebrows.
"There was a tazer fight." Cato gave as way of explination. Katniss was not sure what that meant but clearly no one was dead so she let it go.
Chapter 46: Two
Greetings! One is going to be another short chapter. I hope this one gave you all kinds of feels. Shit is going down. Also go to tumblr for the dress.
Cannot wait for the capitol. We get to have some really cool chapters there. And then we got to go back to Twelve and get more Gadge. You will deal with it.
P.S. My boyfriend trolled me. He said when we joined the gym we would only be going three days a week. We have gone every day. He half dragged me to my work out clothes yesterday. That is the reason there are no longer two chapters a day. After food I am at the gym trying to get in shape so that I can do the back bowls in Vail this winter. (If you are not a ski or snowboard person and have never seen or heard about the back bowls you should google them. And then you will understand. Oh the powder!)
Leave me your emotions to take the muscle ache away! -E
He can see the lights from the train. Even in the early morning light the spotlights at the quarry illuminate the skyline. The mountain in the distance is the only shadow of his home.
Cato had almost forgotten what it looked like, the images scrubbed out by the sharp memories from twelve and the hazy ones from the capitol. But staring at the skyscrapers he recalls things he had forgotten. The pain the first time he broke an arm, and the panic when he realized no one was coming to help. It's an old memory that feels smokey and wrong in his mind because it implies that at one point there was some one that came to help. Cato doesn't have a memory of who that might be.
The sunlight catches the mirrored side of the program building and another memory comes to him, Brutus used to watch him train. When he was in the middle of the program Brutus used to come and watch them train but thinking back now he remembers that more than once he caught the man looking at him.
"It's so bright." Katniss says standing next to him looking out the window.
"It's an illusion." Cato tells her. The reflective and bright surfaces of his home hide the things no one really talks about, the things that happen in the mountain.
"The sky seems so big." Katniss observes. Outside of the city it is true, the sky stretches from horizon to horizon creating a never-ending line of blue in all direction. The one thing to break that line is the mountain to the south, where the Capitol lies.
"Stop staring and get changed!" Effie shouts at them and Katniss scampers off to slip into the stunning creation Cinna has made for this occasion. Here she must be more radiant than ever. They will eat her alive otherwise.
"I have something to match for you." Cinna motions towards a garment bag as her hurries by. Cato glances at it. Clothes wont protect him here, but they will keep him separate. The best he can hope for here is to not remember.
Cato doesn't even give the gold and crème suit a real thought until he has it completely on and notices that he matches the light coming off the program center. Cinna knows what he is doing. The golden light is a near constant in the city. It will remind them that he is their victor. Katniss is dressed in a similarly colored dress, but she steals the show of the two of them.
"Together?" She asks holding out her now ring-clad hand. Cato know he will never be able to repay her for the things she done for him, most of then she will never even know mattered.
"Together." He answers lacing their fingers together has the train comes to a stop. They wait for the others to step off first and then in a sea of flashing lights and golden suns they exit together.
She doesn't know what she had been expecting but not this, not this clean sharp place. The buildings are made of reflective glass and everything is groomed into straight lines. The query is the only thing that seems to not be in perfect order and that is so far off from the center of things.
Cato had explained the program and that this was the home of most peacekeepers. Here was where they came from, and the program is what made them what they were. Peacekeepers were the kids that did not go to the games or find wealthy sponsors in the capitol that wanted them for other things.
Looking in the eyes of Clove and Maze's parents is one of the worst parts of the tour so far. Katniss had thought knowing she had failed Rue and Thresh was hard, but now that she looks at the parents of the children she killed she knows the truth. Here is the real agony, the knowledge that she took that little boy's big brother from him, that the angry woman will never hold her daughter again and its all Katniss's fault.
And then there is Cato. Katniss watches a very real war waged in his head every moment. The part of him that left here, the part that volunteered makes appearances in the way he responds to reporters and how he shakes the crowd's hands. Yet he is violent and itchy, shoving those who come near him and once stepping on a peacekeeper's foot for no reason in particular.
It is hours before they are alone and then he is not quiet himself. Cato paces the room in agitation and wont look her in the eye. Katniss isn't sure what to do with this half person. He is not the boy she knows, not completely. There is another person in his head and that person seems to be trying to say something.
When the knock comes at the door Cato yanks it open before she can even move. Brutus stands in the doorway looking perplexed and pleased all at once.
"You aren't starving I see." Brutus scans Cato.
"It's not that hard all I have to do is put the food in my mouth and chew." Cato sounds like Haymitch when he says that. Brutus must think so as well because his face scrunches up and he looks disgusted.
"The drunk is rubbing off on you." Brutus ignores it when Cato rolls his eyes at this. "May we speak privately?" Brutus sends Katniss a pointed glance that she ignores.
"Whatever you need to say can be said in front of Katniss." Cato crosses his arms and she can see that he is clenching and unclenching his fists.
"It can, but I wont. This is between us." There is a long pause. Cato never once looks at her for reassurance, something he has done often since the day he moved to twelve. Here he is the one in charge.
"Fine." Cato closes the door behind him and Katniss is left concerned that something horrible is happening on the other side of that door but she dares not open it.
This is not the boy he knew. This is not the cocky trainee who he led to the games, nor is it the broken shell he pulled from the arena. This boy is entirely new and yet parts of the other two remain. Brutus is unsure of his choice now.
"I have been hearing rumors." Brutus needs to do this properly, breach the topic correctly.
"Anything interesting? Because all I hear these days are rumors." Cato kicks at a column absently.
"You are going to marry her." He is not going to beat around the bush, not with this boy, not with family.
"Yes." Cato takes out a gold cufflink and twirls it on his fingers.
"Do you care for her or are you just insuring you both stay off the boards?" He is unsure of what he hopes for in the answer. If Cato loves the girl than they are both in danger, if he doesn't it means that Cato is in greater danger alone.
"Does it matter?" Cato asks.
"And if it's a bit of both?" Cato is dancing around this, something he never did before. It reeks of Haymitch. Cato has learned to be evasive.
"Fine, but of the two which is the stronger motivation." Brutus is getting impatient. "Cato this is important."
"How important?" Cato tilts his head and a sad smile crosses his features. For a second Brutus is struck by how much he looks like his mother and then it's gone.
"Deadly." It's the truth. There has been a death already for his actions and more might be on their way if this is wrong. Cato shrugs as if this is of no consequence to him.
"I like her more than every other person I know." Cato shuffles his feet and a blush rises to his cheeks.
"Enough to sleep with her? Have a child?" Brutus feels sick asking this, knowing what the end result for that child will be.
"That's what they want is it?" Cato looks out the window at the city. "They need to slaughter a part of us if they can't have us." The laugh that bubbles from Cato is too crazy to be a laugh; it's the sound of insanity. "What's your part in this Brutus? Hmm. Are you here to insure I give them the tribute that will die properly this time? Are you going to stand by the bed and make sure I do the deed?"
"Watch your mouth." Brutus hisses but it's too late, Cato is fracturing.
"I think not. I think they can go fuck themselves. I am going to marry her and none of them are going to be invited and then we are never going to have kids, just to spit at them."
"You don't…" Brutus begins but Cato stops him.
"No I do. I get it. They will hurt those I love. But there is only her. So they will hurt her and by extension her family. So I stay in line so that they don't." Cato laughed again and this time it sounded a bit like tears. "I hate this place."
Brutus is still putting things together in his head when Cato starts to walk away. He isn't sure what to believe but he knows that clearly Cato is more aware than Brutus had thought.
"Thanks for the warning cousin." Cato says suddenly snapping Brutus back to reality.
"What did you say?"
"Haymitch was hammered this morning. Finally gave it up. Makes sense now, why you were watching all those years, why all my gifts were signed from you. Sorry I am such a massive disappointment."
Cato walks away. It's better that way. Brutus didn't say the things he wanted to. He didn't say that Cato wasn't a disappointment. He didn't say that he was proud and even a little bit jealous that Cato was finding happiness. He didn't say that he loved him, the same way he had loved his headstrong wild cousin.
Brutus said nothing. Because that is what it cost to live, it cost your heart.
Chapter 47: One
I don't know why this happened in my mind, but I blame the media blamers. My mind is a scary place. Next up ring shopping and capitol stuff. As always dress is on the tumblr.
Also I want to see some reviews minions. I mean really we hit 1,000 but since then it has been dismal. -E
"Nope." Katniss even stomped her foot. There was a big silence as the prep team looked at her in disappointment.
"But have you seen the dress. It would go so well with the dress." Flavius tried to convince her. Cato was currently trying very hard not to make any noise. "They expect luxury here."
"No. We are not putting jewels there; I don't care if you call it the dazzler. I am not putting anything down there. No one is going to see it." Katniss looked a bit frazzled.
"Cato would see it." Octavia put in. There was a snicker from Haymitch and Cato was trying very hard not to say anything. A bolt of fabric flew threw the air covering Haymitch.
"Don't say a word!" Katniss pointed angrily at Cato. He nodded and indicated that his lips where sealed.
"What is going on in here?" Cinna asked walking in to find the group in a stand off.
"They want to put jewels on my twat." Katniss explains angrily.
There was no stopping the giggled then. Haymitch was having what appeared to be a seizure under the fabric. Cato put his fist in his mouth to stop himself from making any noise. Cinna managed to only snort.
Katniss threw a shoe at him and stormed out. It took a few hours to get her into the skimpy jewel covered dress, but the entire night Haymitch dissolved into giggles every time he looked at Katniss. She threw food at him twice. No one, not even Effie, said anything once they heard what had happened.
So it was that they left district one feeling a lot better, well at least everyone but Katniss did.
Chapter 48: Rings
"You aren't supposed to know there are cameras there so stop looking." Cinna chides as they walk into the jewelry store. Tonight is the big victory tour interview and Cinna has it all planned for Cato to purpose on stage.
"Sometimes you don't make sense." Cato grumbles as the sales person comes over to greet them.
"I make perfect sense, you have just not been paying attention." Cinna is right there. Cato has been tuning out most of these plans. They sit wrong with him. This is not how he should be purposing; hell this is not how he should be doing any of this.
Before now Cato had not really put any thought into marriage or children. What was the point of thinking about things beyond the games? But now those options existed and he just knew that the way things were going was wrong, it wasn't how it was supposed to be.
"Welcome back to Platnium Victor Cato, how may we be of service?" The pink woman asks.
"Engagement rings." Cato is going to have to elaborate here. Cinna has called ahead, the staff aready know and there are camera crews hidden in the surrounding area to capture him buying the ring. There will be a series of leaked photos just before the big interview tonight.
The selection is staggering. An entire room filled with rings all with large shiny stones at the center. Now Cato is glad that Cinna is here because he eliminates options and gives orders from the get go.
"We are going to want something with either a gold, rose gold or white gold setting. Can't have the ring clashing with the bracelets. Two carats or smaller on the diamonds. No emeralds or sapphires, but please bring a selection of rubies and a few topaz. I saw a few canary diamonds on the listing and I would like to see those as well." The sales people rush in circles to obey Cinna.
The next hour is spent meandering the room as Cinna rejects thousands of rings. Cato makes a few circuits for the room before he starts looking at the things in the cases. Most of the rings are large gaudy affairs that he could never picture Katniss wearing. It isn't until the third hour of Cinna having a fight about the shape of the stones that Cato finds the display.
It's tucked in the corner below a screen. The rings are tiny and seem to be mostly composed of tiny animals. There is one with a rabbit running across a plain band. Another with a cat curled around a tiny stone. It the last ring that catches his attention.
The ring itself is a multitude of thing bands crisscrossed together, but sitting on top of the bands are four tiny birds. Two of the birds are white gold and two are gold. Between the birds is one of the smallest diamonds Cato as seen in the entire store.
He doesn't bother telling anyone, just slides the glass aside and plucks it out of the display. Cinna has narrowed his search down to maybe twenty rings and finally seems ready to let Cato make a choice.
"I still think we should check other stores." Cinna say as Cato comes over. "I am just not finding what we are looking for."
Cato sets the ring down on the table. There is a pause as Cinna realizes that Cato has placed a ring down and then he gives Cato a perplexed look. Cinna lifts the ring to the light and turns it around several times.
"This isn't really what I had in mind." Cinna frowns and then turns to Cato. There must be something on his face, something about how he feels when he sees that particular ring, because Cinna's face brightens. "Then again if you feel that way."
"Sir, that is not an engagement rings, its part of our collection for small girls and animal lovers." The pink sales woman looks nervous. It occurs to Cato that this is an important sale. What he buys will set a trend in the capitol. He just selected something that is not that fashionable and they have very little stock.
"This one." Cato hands her the ring. The woman's smile wobbles for a moment and then she hurries off to put it in an elaborate box.
"Ready for this?" Cinna asks as they exit the store in a flurry of reporters.
"No." It's the truth. Cato isn't ready for this, but he is going to do it because it matters. Because she matters. Because he loves her.
Today I have been listening to Little Romance by Ingrid Michaelson on repeat. So I wanted to and it on a little romantic note. Ring on Tumblr (one of the reasons this took me a while is a needed to find one I didn't hate.)
Okay so funny imagery confession time. Most days I feel like I am a horse hitched to the front of a carriage and you guys are in the back demanding I go towards the hedge faster whips and all, but the hedge is far off and its just not going to happen. And then other days I am trotting along merrily being like "look how quickly I went round that bend, did you see that?" But you haven't because you are taking an afternoon nap in your pretty dresses and I am out here sweating literally like a horse.
What I am saying is I need to be petted regularly. -E
Chapter 49: On Bend and Knee
"Exactly how drunk are you Haymitch?" She ask trying not to smooth her sweating hand down her dress. It is an elaborate concoction of embroidered leaves and billowy fabric. It hugs her curves all the way down past her knee and then flares out suddenly. Cinna called it mermaid style but Katniss just knows that it is darling and she does not want to ruin it.
"The better question sweetheart is how drunk aren't I?" Haymitch hick ups.
"That doesn't make sense." Katniss knows this is not the conversation she should be having right now. Octavia is coming back in a moment to do one finally touch up and then she will be on stage in moments. But she is trying not to focus on the crowd just beyond the curtain.
"You're drunk." Haymitch snaps at her. He then promptly stumbles away and vomits in a bucket where they keep the ropes. Katniss nods because that seems about right. Thankfully before she can really start thinking horrible things Octiavia reappears and rushes over.
"I feel so silly, how could I forget your hairpin." She hums to herself and then takes Katniss' mockingjay pin and attaches it to the barret that is already pushing the hair back. Now apparently the look is complete. Octavia gives her a happy kiss and scampers off. Katniss is glad as the music starts that she has her pin and her arrows because she is going to be walking out on that stage alone tonight.
Caesar walked out on stage and the light came up blinding Katniss momentarily. He did his opening bit and then with a large flourish asked the crowd if they were ready to see their victor. Cheers rang out as Katniss crossed the stage to take her seat. The chair was larger this time than the last, but Katniss only had a moment to notice before she had to start answering questions.
The first part is easy. How is she? Has she had any more lamb stew? How is the victor's village? What do the people back home say? What did she think of the different districts? Isn't District One so amazing? Then Caesar brought up her dresses and they watched some footage of her from the different district.
"They are all amazing creations truly." Caesar said as the movie stopped. "But what you are wearing tonight is so different. I am kind of sad there will be no flames tonight." The crowd laughed. "May I ask why Cinna put you in something so sweet for tonight?"
"He said it was a surprise." Katniss answers but she has a pretty good idea why. She had heard the boys arguing that she is no good at acting the day before. That she will need to be surprised. So Katniss knows something is coming.
"A surprise indeed." Caesar is overly pleased. "Who would like to see the surprise?" He yells out to the audience, they go wild. That is what Katniss thinks at least until Cato appears under a spot like on stage, then the noise is truly deafening.
Katniss can't help but smile a little when she sees him. Cinna has him in a reflective silver suit that catches the light of the stage making him look to be dressed in a thousand colors. He smiles back momentarily before he reaches her and then she knows something is up because he is down on one knee.
Noises that sound like dying cats erupt from the crowd and Katniss is trying to put together where she has seen a man do something like that before when Cato pulls a blue and white box out of his pocket. Then she remembers, one of those romantic movies Cinna made Cato watch this is what the man did when he asked the girl to marry him.
"Together?" Cato asks and it's so much more than that, because she can hear the other word he says. "Mine?" Her face is wet and she is nodding and the crowd is shouting and she sees flowers on stage. Caesar is clapping and for one moment no one is really listening to them.
"Birds?" Katniss wonders looking at the ring. It's whispered into his ear as he holds her for a moment.
"You said you saw Rue in the birds." Cato tells her and Katniss remembers the speech, where she said she saw Rue in everything that was beautiful.
The kiss is salty and she doesn't care. Because she might not fully understand how she feels about Cato but she knows he is trying to giver her back the things she has lost.
It was forever before the crowd settled down and even longer before they could get Katniss to give any kind of answer. She wasn't ready for this. It was for show, she knew that but she was not ready.
And it was over and the producers rushed them out of the building so that would not be mobbed and they were back at the training center apartment before Katniss could really put a clear thought together. Haymitch looked green around the edges and Effie had yet to stop talking. Cinna was surrounding by the prep team who were just devastated they were not told sooner.
Hours latter everyone had long gone to bed but Katniss was sitting in her leafy dress looking at the bird ring on her finger. It felt surreal and distance, everything about tonight and this place felt like another world.
"I thought he would have liked it." Cato says slidding into the window seat across from her, he is still wearing the suit and in the darkness it simmers.
"Who?" Katniss asks looking back at the ring.
"Peeta." The silence that follows is heavy. "I thought it looked like something he would have gotten you."
"Why? What would make you think of that?" She sounded hurt, it was how she felt. Peeta was a special memory, something she kept to herself so that others couldn't tarnish it.
"He loved you first." Cato shrugged and she could tell he was struggling with this. "He would have wanted you to have a real marriage purposely and a ring that was nothing like the capitol."
"We don't have rings in twelve." Katniss twists it off her finger and holds it in her hand.
"Haymitch did tell me that. But Cinna said that the capitol would expect one." Cato lifts the ring and slides it down his pinky finger to the second knuckle but then it doesn't go any farther. "I'm sorry this isn't real."
"It's fine." But its not, not really. Katniss isn't sure why. Cato hands the ring back and she slides it back on. Then suddenly as if possessed by a thought Cato jumps out of the seat.
"Come on, let's go." He holds out his hand and Katniss takes it. They are all the way to the elevator before she notices she doesn't have any shoes on. "Don't worry you wont need them."
The doors open to the training center. Katniss hasn't been back here since before the hunger games and she has to try to ignore the knot tying station. Cato doesn't slow down until they reach the archer station. He punches some buttons on the side of the rack and all of the bows unlock from their holders.
Katniss doesn't even have to ask. She picks up every bow trying them each out to see how they feel before she settles on one that feels so much like her father's bow.
"Ready?" Cato asks setting up a device. Katniss nods and then a clay bird is flying through the air. It shot through its fake eye before she even really registers that it was there. Then comes another. The next time there are two at once. By the time there are three at once Katniss having fun, real fun. Cato is even making little happy noises after each hit.
The machine only goes up to five birds at once and that seems too easy after a while, so Cato grabs targets from around the gym and throws them up at the same time the birds are shot out. They make to a total of ten things in the air before Katniss is sweating too much to it them all in the center.
She collapses backwards onto the maps waving her arms in defeat as Cato holds up more targets with a grin on his face. She is laughing and doesn't even care about crinkling the beautiful dress as she tries to grab the targets out of his hands.
And when he lets her pin him to the map and kiss him breathless Katniss isn't thinking about the capitol. She isn't thinking about the other boy that kissed her. She isn't thinking about how this engagement is for show.
Because it doesn't matter. Because with him she is always in the woods.
The kiss turned slow and deep. Her hands lingered as they traces his face and he held her softly. Katniss felt the change between them. This was not going to be the hurried and hungry first time or the silent and slow second time. This time felt cozy and relaxed.
There was no rush in these kisses and she could tell that Cato understood as well by the way he took his time kissing the entire column of her throat.
"We are going to ruin the dress." Katniss said softly. The longer they stayed on the ground the more the lights in the center dimmed, the motion sensors not detecting enough movement to keep the entire place lit.
"I think you should take it off then." There was a wickedness in Cato's eyes that Katniss had never seen before and something equally wicked stretched inside of her.
"I couldn't possibly get to the zipper by myself." She teased leaning back on her knees and off him. Cato followed her up tugging at the pins in her hair as he came. The mockingjay pin fell to the floor with a thunk, but they were busy right now.
When her hair was down and Cato had kissed nearly every inch of her neck and collar bone that the dress exposed he moved to pull the zipper off. The dress comes off slowly and Katniss can feel a heat on her skin with each exposed inch. Cato never looks down as the dress slides in his hands, his eyes are on her face.
"You are going to have to look at me." Katniss says when the dress is finally a puddle at her knees.
"I was thinking I might taste first." Cato smiles the wicked smile that sends a shiver down her spine and then pushes her backwards. Katniss braces on her elbows but other wise is now lying naked on the floor. The only undergarments she wore with this dress were a sheer pair of 'panties' according to Flavius.
It's agonizing the pace that Cato sets, taking forever just to get to her breasts. By the time one nipple is in his mouth Katniss is vibrating with urgency. When he moves that slow attention to the other breast Katniss is scissoring her legs together.
"Could you hurry it up?" She asks sounding half annoyed and half desperate.
"No." Cato shakes is head as he descends to her abdomen. "You got to play with the arrows. It's my turn." Katniss did not until just that moment fully understand the concentration and dedication that Cato possessed, but now as his mouth carves a slow agonizing path down her she knows the whole of it.
A rush of air alerts her to the fact that Cato has removed the last of her undergarments. She is now truly naked in the shadows of the training center. Cato's mouth reachs her hip and she knows what he is planning to do in a way.
"You don't have to…" Katniss starts, wanting to say that they can do something else, that this feels odd and she isn't sure she wants it.
"My turn." Cato snaps cutting her off. It must snap his patience as well because his mouth gives her one long lick and she is undone. His mouth is different than his fingers and part of her wants to push him away but another part spreads her legs for him. Cato finds the spot that aches and sucks it into his mouth and Katniss feels that peak off in the distance.
When his tongue goes in her coping the motion his fingers once took Katniss digs her nails into his scalp because it's the only thing she can think to do. She wants to grab something, hold something but there is nothing just the mats and Cato so she buries her hands in his hair.
"Cato." Her voice cracks on the word. Her body is too exposed like this, not the heat covering her. It's offsetting and she can't seem to focus on him. She feels weak like this.
Rather than listen to her or move up her body has she is trying to indicate Cato remains. Only now he brings his fingers into play. They take the path into her and there are three this time and she feels stretched and full. His mouth closes on her and sucks and licks as his fingers pump.
The peak comes and this time she isn't blinded or spent when it shatters in her mind. She comes down feeling relaxed and happy like a cat. Katniss feels like she wants to roll around for a while and run her arms over the matts.
Cato stands and looks like he wants to leave or find something. But Katniss catches him before he can get more than one step in. This time she wants it to be equal.
"I'm not done with you." She explains as she reaches up and tugs him down to the floor with her. Cato falls to his knees and wipes his mouth on his sleeve before smiling back at her.
"I thought you already had a turn."
"This is still part of your turn from my understanding." Katniss tells him as she pulls at the buttons to his shirt and pushes it off his shoulders. Cato helps her with his pants pushing them down to his knees with his undergarments in tow.
Katniss is not as startled by the velvety texture and finds that lying there between his legs she can fit him in her mouth. The sound that escapes him is empowering. Where Katniss normally makes gasping mewling sounds Cato rumbles and groans and it sets parts of her alive.
He tastes salty and a bit like that liquid her mother uses to clean the table after some one has bleeds on it. But it's smooth and glides through her mouth like the popsicles she had once. Cato's hand's fist in her and she realizes he needs a faster pace.
Her hand wraps around him and strokes in time with her mouth. Its only a minute before Cato groans and then shutters above her. It splashes down the back of her throat and Katniss swallows on instinct, even though once he is done she can feel a film on her teeth.
Cato comes down to the floor and lays himself on top or her. He kisses her face and neck and hair and then despite her protest that he shouldn't he kisses her deeply. As they are putting clothes back on Katniss express a thought that is running in her head.
"I liked this time. It was just us, no ghosts or enemies." Cato smiles and hands her the mockingjay pin.
"I like just us as well." He says as she accepts the pin.
"We should do it again." Katniss hears herself say as he turns to pick up his jacket.
"Of course." Cato says and then he helps her zip up the dress and the two of them return to the rest of the world.
So I have to go to an emergency dental appointment. My retainer had a fight with a very unripe plum and it lost. Which I think is stupid because I am 24 and way too old to have this thing still in my mouth but whatever.
Dress and suit are on the tumblr.
Kill all the plums in my honor, I must valiantly go to have my mouth tortured. Maybe reviews will make it better. -E
Chapter 50: Son
The mean one was here. Why was the mean one here? Why was Brutus the mean one? They were all kind of mean. Except Monster Mash, Haymitch liked him now. Brutus needed another name. Maybe the hairy one?
"Are you listening to me?" Brutus demanded next to him at the bar. It was empty or at least mostly empty. No one really comes to this beat up place but Haymitch. And he deserves a drink tonight, or ten. After nearly a month of almost sobriety he wants to be truly drunk.
"No." Haymitch smiled happily and went back to the vodka.
"They can't get married. Pay attention." Brutus shouts. Haymitch spills his drink down the front of his shit, but its fine because they left the bottle so it's no big deal.
"It speaks." Haymitch threw the glass behind the bar and heard it shatter on the floor. The bartender screamed something and went to clean it up.
"They have to be citizens from the same district for the marriage to be legal. That means one of them has to switch." Brutus growled.
"Wait, what?" Haymitch was listening now. Before he had been sure Brutus was just on his period, but this sounded serious.
"And for them to switch districts one of them has to be adopted by a capitol favored adult from that district." Brutus seemed to relax now that Haymitch was now paying attention.
"You mean a victor or a mentor, because they certainly don't give a fuck about the mayor." Haymitch laughs. Brutus rolled his eyes.
"Yes, idiot, that is what I was hinting at." The other man brushed a bit of lint off his jacket and Haymitch felt the urge to dump the bottle on him just to see what would happen. But that would be wasting perfectly good vodka, so he would restrain himself. Stupid Katniss, stupid Cato creating such a mess. It was their fault he tried to be sober, because trouble followed them and some times ran ahead of them.
"Well next time hint harder." Haymitch mumbled. "So what do you want to do then?" Brutus huffed in annoyance.
"Clearly we can't have Katniss coming to Two, it would never work and you need her to mentor. So, the solution that makes sense is for you to adopt Cato." Brutus looked disgusted, which made Haymitch's stomach want to join the party but that was bad because that would mean throwing up on Brutus and he couldn't do that. "Seeing as they are so intent on this." The gross face was back.
"What is your problem?" Haymitch hiccupped in confusion, why was Brutus always so angry? Brutus reached forward and gripped Haymitch by the front of his shirt dragging him up to the other man.
"You want to know what my problem is? My problem is that I have to sign one of the only family members I have left over to an idiot like you. That you people get to have him no questions asked and I am left to clean up the mess you leave. Jass is dead and you get to adopt Cato while I am left with a whimpering child that doesn't know why his mother is gone. My problem is that you don't deserve him. You might be a victor but you played the game wrong and now you make everyone else pay for your ignorance and your progeny will follow the same path and take Cato with her." Brutus whispered in complete fury. Haymitch didn't know people could do that. "My problem is that you disgust me."
"That makes two of us." Haymitch gave the other man a wink that he did not feel. The look on Brutus' face should have been priceless, should have felt like a win, but it just made Haymitch feel sick.
The sick feeling didn't leave, not even the next morning when Haymitch stumbled down to the legal department to meet Brutus. It's too bright, always so bright. Everything in the capitol is always so bright and full of color, as if they can mask the evil with shiny stone and pretty fabrics.
It didn't go away when the man brought out the fancy papers to sign. The documents are written in huge scrolling letters that have no purpose other than to make the complicated phrases look pretty. Everything here must look pretty; because nothing really is, it's all rotten.
It got worse as he watched Brutus stab the paper with the pen a seething mass of rage. It got worse when Haymitch took that paper himself and signed his name and took on another's life in that moment.
"Congratulations Mr. Abernathy you're a father." The fancy man said and Haymitch had to hold in the urge to throw up on the spot.
Not another one. Not another life in his hands. Not another life he had no real power to protect. He couldn't do this. He didn't want to be a father. He didn't want to have a son.
"Don't fuck this up Abernathy." Brutus warns as he leaves. "Otherwise I will kill you with my bare hands." It occurs to Haymitch that Brutus must have really loved his cousin Jass, for him to feel such extremes for Cato. It brings back old pain and Haymitch hates old pain, it's the reason he drinks.
"That's the funny part Brutus," Haymitch tells him. "I am already killing myself. You are just gonna help me do it." They don't speak again. Brutus storms off and head back to district two in hours. Haymitch must break the news to his son, his son. It's a heavy weight on his tongue and heart.
Cato is confused by the news. The boy barely knows that Brutus was his guardian before that information has changed. He understands the legal ramifications but wants to know what this means.
"What does this change?" He asks.
"Nothing." Haymitch says the truth. "And everything."
A short one but an emotional one. Dentist fixed me up quickly so that's better.
For those of you one tumblr please look into following the these people: luhd-wig, districtwocato, fires-catching, bloodyrose-of-panem, catonissfanfiction. I want to show them some love as the people that are currently the hardest shippers on tumblr.
Not sure what the next chapter is going to be. Either they are having a ball or going right back to Twelve. Who wants to see what? -E
Chapter 51: It Starts At
Katniss had wandered off to eat. It was pretty much all she was doing tonight. Cato wasn't going to complain because it was the first time in a while that Katniss had any kind of enthusiasm for food. Maybe it was the wide variety of food here or maybe it was the fact that in a few hours they would be leaving for District Twelve but Katniss was in better spirits.
They would be gone for another six months. But the next time they returned it would be fore the quarter quell, for the games. Cato didn't want to think about that. About what that meant for the kids he was now fond of, how could he even begin to imagine losing two of them to the brutality that he had endured.
Cato didn't notice at first the man that had come to stand next to him. He was just another capitol citizen and then something about the man's hair triggered a memory of throwing knives in the gym.
"Do I know you?" Cato asked wanting the man to either identify himself or leave. He wasn't here to play nice with everyone. He was here for Katniss.
"I am this year's head game maker. Plutarch Heavensbee." He held out his hand and Cato was forced to shake it. "Pleasure to finally meet you in person. I was one of the few that recommend you receive a higher score, but then they didn't listen to me back then. But they do now." He laughed to himself. Cato wasn't amused. "Well I should be going soon. I did want to catch a dance with the lovely lady before it gets too late. I have a meeting with the game makers, it starts at midnight."
The man adujusted his watch and Cato caught a glimpse of a mockingjay with an arrow in it's mouth. Then the image was gone and so was the man. Later when he was out on the dance floor with Katniss trying to puzzle it over she mentioned he said the same thing roughly to her.
"What do you think?" She asked.
"I think it's time we go home." Cato was not going to say the truth that he was pretty sure Plutarch was much like Cinna and had other things in mind.
She should have said something but now it was too late, she was permanently hairless. The prep team had worn Cinna down during the victory tour and at the time Katniss had just shrugged because it wasn't that different than what they normally did. Her eyebrows were perfect now, forever. Her leg hair, the hair under her arms and the hair between her legs would never grow back.
Right now she hated that. She wanted the extra layer between her and the cold. The now in twelve was think and the air hurt to breathe. Coming home had been funny in a way. Cato was mobbed at the train station. That was not an exaggeration or a turn of phrase, half the children of the district had sprung from hiding places and jumped at him. Rory and one particularly nimble girl had managed to topple him over in what could be considered the second attack wave and then they just dog piled one him.
It took everyone a while to understand that Cato had ordered this behavior. He wanted them to practice attacking larger targets in groups. The kids had taken that to heart and attacked him upon his return.
But nothing could top the current situation. Katniss had been kicked out of the house for this one and Prim was apparently at the bakery learning to frost. Being outside didn't really stop her from hearing the screaming that was going on inside. Katniss could hear her mother and Haymitch and every now and then Cato would start to say something and they would both yell at him.
She wanted to be a part of this, she should be a part of this. But at the same time that would mean defending her actions, defending their actions. Katniss wasn't sure she could explain to anyone the exact reasons that they were doing this, or even if she could if she would be believed.
"Hey Catnip." Gale said strolling up to the steps. He plopped down beside her with ease. "Mom not taking your engagement well?" He smiled but there was something there that wasn't a full smile. She had hurt him. Katniss had thought her and Gale were beyond this, whatever it was, this weird thing he did some times with her.
"She is upset she wasn't told sooner." Katniss hears the words leave her mouth and suddenly knows why Gale looked hurt.
"Sounds familiar." Gale doesn't put venom into it but she knows he is upset.
"Sorry. It was last minute." She wants him to understand. "They were going to sell us Gale."
"They can't do that." Gale says it like he knows and Katniss wishes it was true.
"No, they can and they do. I met some of the others on the tour and it's true. Finnick is the most popular but Cashmere will find strange men in her rooms when she visits the capitol." A shudder runs through Gale. "They were going to do it to both of us."
"And this fixes it?" He wants to know.
"Public opinion of us is too high. They can't do it now."
"I don't like that you are lying." Gale shakes his head. He is her friend and he will always be her friend. They will always be important to one another and she failed him this time. She didn't tell him before they left even though she knew then. She kept this from Gale the same way she kept every thing about Peeta from him. Yet Gale was hers. He was her safe place. She still needed him.
"Amazing things can come from some terrible lies." Katniss thinks of her two big lies. How the first one ended in blood and leaves her empty most days. How the second is patching up that hole little by little.
Chapter 52: Romulus
It was one of the little kids that pointed out that the train was early. The train came later today but it had come last night. She was a little twig of a thing but she was one of the brightest in Sneak and Cato was training her to be a spymaster of sorts. Sussy seemed a little frantic that morning wanting to tell him the news.
The other kids were busy playing war games in the dirty snow. All the snow here turned black or grey once it fell so far, the coal dust coating it. Today they were practicing in real teams, no going against your team near the end. Every one won together or lost together. They liked it better that way and this was an easy training day.
"There were boot prints this morning, and there are never boot prints on the first of the week train, that only happens at the end of the week." Sussy explained.
"That is significant." Boot prints meant people getting on or off the train. "Have you seen anyone new or has some one gone missing?" Cato asked the girl.
She shook her head vigorously and went back to the game. She might have good attention to detail but she was still just a child, and children wanted to play. Today Sneak won the games and yet all the kids seemed happy. For a second Cato though maybe today would go well despite the late train, then Rory came running.
Cato had never seen Rory crying. He was too stubborn to cry even when hurt or terrified. This was not good.
"They are killing him!" The small boy shouted running right into Cato's chest. "They are whipping him and he is going to die!" It clicked. The boots were new peacekeepers, and they had Gale. Of course they had Gale, he was too open about his breaking of the laws and these peacekeepers would be fresh and from Two. All the peacekeepers came from Two, capitol citizens never wanted to live in squander.
Cato was moving before he even had the thought formed. Sure enough there stood a new peacekeeper and a bloody unconscious Gale being whipped half to death. The crowd let Cato through; few of the adults had gotten over their complete fear of him. When Cato blinked he saw other people on that pole and remembered the times he had felt that sting.
The whip hissed through the air. Cato didn't brace for impact or falter in his movements. He simply walked slowly between the whip and Gale. It stung, but it was an old sting a pain that is body knew and Cato did not flinch. There would be a giant whelt on his face for a while and it would sting to blink for days.
"Stand aside!" The large man ordered. Cato felt a bit like laughing, because he knew this man. He knew that voice because it had been a voice in his childhood. Romulus Thread had been a tormentor for a while. One of the older boys that had taken joy in breaking the younger boys. Then he had tested poorly. Sure it was fine if Romulus had rage issues in training and combat, that made a better solider or tribute as far as they were concerned. But to have rage problems when dealing with civilian situations was unacceptable. It would be in poor taste to have a tribute start killing early or start attacking the guards over nothing.
Some days it amused Cato that as a victor he was allowed to do the things that had Romulus barred from the program.
"Well isn't it Romulus Thread, the big disappointment for the program." Cato went for cocky. He remembered the pysch profile they had done on Romulus before he was ejected from the program. They always made sure the other kids knew why the failures were kicked out. The key was to not get riled up; Romulus did not do well with smart-ass remarks.
"Excuse me?" Romulus was older of course but he looked very much the same.
"Romulus, surely you recognize your victor." The tone felt foreign on his tongue but he to keep it up.
"No, I had heard you moved to live with these filth, I had just hoped you had better sense." Romulus spit on the ground. Cato wanted to say something but he was silent on that part because the whipping was delayed as long as he kept this going.
"And I had heard you had gone to peace keeper training, but you must have done poorly to be sent here. Couldn't send you anywhere important, you might fail at that as well." Cato managed to laugh. A red head peacekeeper stepped forward just as Romulus raised his hand to send the whip at Cato.
"Sir, the first violation lashes have been served." The red haired man says.
"I could have told you that Romulus. I mean really, how badly did you fail at this program to not know that? District twelve has a lower lash quota, because of the labor required here. Eight has the highest because of the menial labor. Should I quote you the manual as well?" Cato smirked.
"Tell the gutter rats I will be coming for them." Romulus turned and left. It was a good thing he left when he did because Katniss came along then, he had wondered where she had been this whole time. She came out of nowhere like she always did and this time was screaming. Cato suspected that some one in town might have been keeping her busy until this was resolved and he would have to find out who and thank them later.
It was confusing to be here. People were upset and screaming and crying. There was a panic to get Gale to the house fast enough to get his wounds cleaned and stop blood loss. Prim seemed to be in the center of the whirlwind with her mother, the two of them the calm in the storm.
Cato had seen so many injured before, had been injured so many times. But it wasn't the same here. He was always struck by they way they cared about each other here. It wasn't until Madge of all people grabbed him to drag him to the house that he was able to articulate anything.
"They are punishing us." He told the mayor's daughter. "All of us." He should have excepted repercussions sooner really. Cato wasn't sure how they had escaped the wrath of the capitol for so long.
"Some more than others." The look in her eyes was watery and sad. Cato hadn't before considered Madge too much. She was agile and getting better with a bow but she was so rarely at the training and she seemed to not get along with most people, so why should she care. She was a loner and a social outcast.
Cato did a mental catalogue of events, it was one of the things he had taught himself to do back during the program. He pulled up every memory of Madge to see what she had been doing.
He saw her watching, always watching from the sidelines. Until Gale came along. In the last twenty times he had seen her Gale had been near her or speaking to her. They rarely looked like the conversation was going well, but they kept talking to each other.
"You like him." Madge looks surprised for a second and then glares at Cato.
"Don't go around telling people. I refuse to be just another bandage on his pain." Madge orders him. Here was another one of those moments where Cato had to piece together bits of information. He had heard the stories of Gale and the girls of the district and once asked Rory if he knew why. The little boy had explained that Gale was trying to be an adult and a kid all at once and it made him mean and angry and hurt others, but not on purpose.
"I wont tell anyone." Cato promises. If Madge wanted to be special for Gale he would not spoil that, it was none of his business anyway.
"That's a lie and we know it. You will tell her."
"No I wont." Cato insists.
"You wont have to tell her. She will see it in your face. The two of you have some kind of mind link up most of the time. I have seen you have entire conversations with only three words between the both of you." Madge sounds angry, but people get angry when they are worried.
"Is there any way for you to help?" He has started to notice that loved ones always want to help when the injured come to Mrs. Everdeen.
"No." Madge snaps at him.
"Nothing that you might have that the Everdeen's wouldn't?" Cato knows about the pain medication, the entire district knows. But coming right out and saying it would be cruel. Madge stands there for a moment in the dirty snow seeming unsure and then it clicks in her head, she runs off towards town without a word.
Katniss finds him out in the snow when the screaming starts. She hates blood and pain.
"They are saying you know him." It's not a question.
"I know what he is." Because how do you know a monster or a shell of a man filled with rage and hate. Romulus has never been a person, not in the ways it matters. They stand there for a while watching the snowfall listening to Gale's screams. They can hear the others crying. Cato wonders if there is something wrong with them, they hardly ever cry except when they dream.
"What do we do?" Rory has come out of the house to stand next to them. The small boy looks lost but he is just the person that Cato needs.
"Tell the others we are going into scramble red." Rory's eyes get huge and then the boy runs off.
"What is scramble red?" Katniss asks. She missed that day.
"Invasion." Cato looks at the town. "Its counter measures for an invasion."
Chapter 53: Scramble Red
The blizzard that followed stopped Katniss from going out of the house, but it didn't stop the peacekeeps and it didn't stop Cato. This is what he is had been planning for with Cinna. This is what those months on the train had been about.
Katniss had pissed over a lot of high-ranking people with her stunts in the arena and her actions following. But Cato had out right broken laws and spit in the Capitol's face. Retaliation was never a question it was a certainty.
So he had changed a few things with the kids, run a few games where they had to spy and destroy pretend structures. They had loved it. But a month was a short period of time to get them ready for this.
Still they were good. No one was caught from the Hob. Sure it burned but the kids, so used to crawling around in the dirty and looking for hidden places had found replacements. There were basements all over the district, hidden from years of disuse. Cato set up head quarters in one of them.
They started simple. Trace the peacekeeper, know when they go where, and know when they sleep and when they eat and when they look for lawbreakers. It took several of the kids days to get the hang of tracking. They had to do it all hours of the day, every day.
It took two weeks to get the routes mapped and the new people analyzed.
It took another two to get counter active measures in place. It was hard to get to the new structures in the square, but they needed to be picked apart slowly. With each person arrested they needed to take the structures integrity down. They would be rotting by the time summer came in full.
"Cato, have you turned us into a military state?" Prim asks when the snow lets up and the girl gets a good look at the operation he is running.
"Are you mad?" He asks his little sister, because he thinks of her that way. Primrose belongs to him just as much as she belongs to Katniss.
"Sad really." She looks at his office in the dirt floor basement. "I wish it didn't have to come to this."
"Would you do anything differently?" Cato wanted to know, because her opinion mattered. Katniss always seemed to be so worried about Prim that some times she missed the person her sister was. Prim was a natural leader. Everyone liked her, and respected her and she was able to make hard choices and still be carefree. She was impossibly complex.
"I don't know. If I was in charge they wouldn't have been prepared, and that has saved people." It was a question but it wasn't all at once.
"Yes, we have kept half the town out of the stocks." Cato told her.
"This is going to last forever isn't it?" Prim asked him with wide eyes and a sad smile.
"Nothing lasts for ever little duck. This too will end." They left the office and walked home holding hands in the snow. This would not last forever. Worse things would be coming, that was how the world worked.
Hey you get a new chapter. Its tiny but you are going to like it. I am having a kind of weird week and am on some decongestants to hopefully clear up my sinus pressure. But the side effect of those meds is that they make me kind of loopy and unable to eat properly. So what you get this week is going to be tiny or weird or both.
Also I got in the mood to write something silly so I have a Teen Wolf story now as well. Its super porny, so kids don't read. It is in no way shape or form tasteful. And I love it to pieces. (on ff.net for now, may move here soon)
Anyway please review. -E
Chapter 54: Announcement
Tiny chapters are back. -E
They kicked him out of the house for when the viewing of the dresses took place, some weird tradition about seeing a bride before the wedding. He was the only person in the entire nation that was not watching the broadcast; he was the only person that had to hear the news second hand.
They were sending them back into the arena. That was the final punishment. The one that they meant to break them. Every one is crying when he comes inside. Only Katniss is gone. So he goes out into the snow to find her.
She is crying in an empty house when he finds her. She is bloody and hysterical but he picks her up and sets her down on his lap. Cato rubs her back until she can speak.
"They are going to kill us all." Katniss mumbles.
"No, not all of us." Cato whispers.
"Yes." She sobs.
"No. I won't be going in and I am going to get you out."
"How are you sure you are not going in? They are going to fill that bowl with your name. You know it!" Katniss shrieks.
"There are twelve living male victors in Two. Even if my name is pulled some one is going to volunteer. I have met them. One of them is going to want to get back in the arena."
"What about Haymitch?" Katniss sounds lost.
"If I am only allowed to love one of you, I am going to pick you." Cato whispers to her.
The next morning is pale and cold. Today they prepare for war, a real war; because Cato is going to get Katniss back, if he has to tear down the capitol with his bare hands.
Chapter 55: Drill Master
Sorry for the delay. Had the sick really bad. Bit better now. -E
She had not been on the receiving end of Cato's special brand of training, and now that she is she regrets every fatty food she has ever eaten. He is a drillmaster who takes no excuses.
Even Haymitch is starting to cry and it's only been a week. A week and Cato has Haymitch crying on the ground. Katniss is not that far behind him. But Cato at least takes the time to kiss her every time she is about to break down from the training.
He makes them do everything. They run, they jump, they lift heavy things, they lift heavy things in different ways, they jump over things and crawl under things. He wakes them up at weird times. Cato begins attacking them in their sleep as well. Something that Haymitch deals with really well in fact Cato comes out from that first encounter covered in cuts.
The town morphs around them. The kids are still running their operation but now they run interference so that the training is never interrupted. District Tweleve is a single unit of people, working together. The difference between those in the Seam and those in the market can no longer be felt in interactions.
Katniss is starting to feel a little bit better about things until she hears Haymitch and Cato talking on afternoon.
"So what if they pull my name here?" Cato asks.
"They wont. They want us all in that arena. They are going to pull you in Two, its where you won." Haymitch groans while stretching out his legs. "The thing is now with the adoption you are a Twelve citizen, you are going to our mentor and the mentor for future kids."
"With Katniss." Cato adds.
"I need you to prepare for the possibility that they are going to be gunning for her in there. I need you to prepare to do this alone." Haymitch says sadly.
"What about those things Cinna said?" Cato asks.
"I don't know son. I just don't know." Katniss can hear Haymitch crying. She leaves the safety of the alcove and goes home. Katniss hugs Prim before going to her room, where she doesn't cry, because Cato will keep Prim safe. Cato will take care of all of it even after she is gone.
Chapter 56: Rory
I have been listening to Enders Game. This is my tribute to Graft and Mazer Rackham. It's Rory and Cato. Because for some reason Rory is now awesome like that. Now I am going to go whine about how more books need written that well. -E
"I am not going to die, am I?"
"Everyone is going to die."
"I am not going to die this year."
"You could still die this year. I don't have the ability to know everything."
"I mean I wont go into the arena."
"No you wont."
"Or next year?"
"Unless they really want to make a point."
"So they kill Haymitch and Katniss."
"I am going to get one of them out."
"I thought you couldn't know everything." He chuckles.
"I can do this."
"You can't do everything Cato."
"I can try."
Chapter 57: Mistake
AN Disclaimer: I skipped ahead. Like a lot. Mostly because if I don't I don't know if I will be able to finish this story. So we are skipping to when they are already back in the Capitol for the Quarter Quell. Also there is an X chapter that takes place before this that I don't have time to write at the moment so it will be up later. Thanks for sticking around.
"Do we have a deal?" He demands, again. Finnick ignores him and keeps digging for the sugar cubes. "Finnick, this is important."
"Oh I know. I just don't trust you to keep up your end of the bargin." The other boy shrugs his net covered shoulders.
"I would never hurt Annie." Cato can't believe the way this conversation is going. Cinna had said it would be easy, make the alliance and move forward. They wanted the young and the strong on their side. Cato would speak with the ones that stood out, Cinna and Haymitch would handle the others.
"That's up to Annie now isn't it? She is going to decide wether we join this alliance. If she doesn't hate you I will think about it." Then the boy is gone and Cato is left in the empty stables. He stays there, watches the parade from the shadows.
It all went down hill so quickly. He had been prepared to lose one of the children. But now they were safe and Katniss and Haymitch were in danger. And Brutus. Brutus was in danger too. The horrible man had volunteered. They had called out Cato's name but before they were even done Brutus had volunteered.
All the people he loved were going into the arena. Together.
His conversation with Johanna did not go much better.
"I don't see the point pretty boy. I really don't." She shook her head and marched off. It was only his first attempt. He would try again.
But not now. Not when Katniss was sick again.
"I thought your mom said it would be in the morning?" He worried outside the bathroom. She was huddled over the toilet again; the chariot ride had made it worse than yesterday.
"She said it's called morning sickness." Katniss grumbles between heaves. "I hate you." She tells him after the next wave.
"I hate me too. This is my fault." Cato feels like crying or screaming. Because they did this, they made this mistake. But that the time it wasn't a mistake, it was perfect then. Well not perfect, but it was what they needed. They had been so sure they were going to lose each other and it had just become too much. Now there was something else to lose.
"Not your fault. Our fault." Katniss smiles weakly from the floor. Cato crouches down to hold her while she feels better for the moment. "I don't really hate you." Katniss shivers.
"I know." Cato knows because he hates himself more than any other person could ever hate him.
"I just hate feeling scared." She admits.
"I promise you I am going to find a way to fix this." Cato grips her harder. Because this promise means he has to watch other die, again. He has to watch Haymitch die, and Brutus die if he wants Katniss and their child. Cinna is trying something but wont tell Cato what it is, and until it is a sure thing he has to deal with reality.
With the reality that Katniss is pregnant.
With the reality that nothing will ever be okay again.
Chapter 58: No Alliance
"I hate you." Brutus grunted at him.
"Back at you big boy." Haymitch lay down on the sofa but that apparently wasn't happening.
"Why are you even here?" Brutus kicks at Haymitch's legs that drape over the sofa.
"I am here at the behest of my son," Haymitch snorted at that word. "To offer you an alliance we me and the mother of his child."
"I decline." Brutus shoved at Haymitch. "Now get out of my apartment."
"Really? You decline? But that means you are cool with letting your second nephew or niece die with its mother." Haymitch looked at him annoyed but Brutus didn't care.
"Fuck off Haymitch. I have given that boy more than I gave anyone else. Excuse me for not being willing to give him my life as well. He can find another girl or boy or whatever." Brutus stabbed his chest with his thumb. "But me, I'm done. You might have had him for the past year but I was the one that pulled him out of the arena. I was the one that gave him the puzzles and realized that touch triggered his rage."
Haymitch stood there dumbfounded. Brutus pushed him into the elevator when the doors dinged.
"As far as I am concerned Cato can fuck off. I am coming out of the arena." The doors closed leaving Haymitch in the darkness.
So yeah. I'm bored. This story is boring me. I mean I know what I want to do with it and there is some cool stuff. But I am simply bored. And I am about to start Graduate school in two weeks, and I have a vacation and I might be in the process of getting a promotion. Also Teen Wolf story is more fun right now.
So considered this the Hiatus announcement. Perhaps after I see the movie again I shall care but right now I gots stuff to do.
If you like Teen Wolf I am having tons of fun on AO3 with my lovely beta over there. We are having a ball writing silly things.
Like G-man says "In the mean time, this is where I get off." -E
She doesn’t like it here. The people always look funny, like birds or fish. There is no dirt under her feet and it smells wrong.
Only Finnick is here so it’s okay. Because Finnick makes everything better.
Only this time something is wrong. Annie knows that. But the birds in her head make it hard for her to focus when Finnick is gone. He is gone a lot these days.
“Annie?” The blonde boy asks. She knows him. He is scary, only he isn’t. He looks scary on the outside, but his eyes are filled with birds and fish and they twirl in his mind as well. She can see it in the way he stands, and the way he moves and the way he rubs his hands.
“You are going to have a baby.” Annie tells him with a smile. Babies are nice. Annie thinks of small children with her eyes and Finnick’s hair and smiles. They won’t exist but they seem nice. Sweet little rainbow fish to swim through her mind.
“Only if you help me.” The blonde boy says.
“Finnick thinks you won’t take care of me.” Annie says coming back to herself for a moment. “If he dies I want an agreement. I want to make sure you know exactly what we are agreeing to.”
Cato’s face bunches up in a funny way and his eyes dart to the corner of the room where an avox stands. Annie rolls her eyes. She needs his choice now, while her mind is clear. She wants to know that if she agrees to this, agrees for Finnick, that things will turn out as well as they can.
“I need your answer Cato.” Annie snaps.
“I would never harm another victor.” Cato growls at her. “We have been through too much.”
“So you would come deal with me when I lose my mind?” Annie asks skeptically.
“If neither of them come out, I will move to four and take care of you for the rest of my days.” Cato says soberly. “I don’t break promises.”
“Then we have a deal.”
Finnick isn’t happy about it later. They only have four days until he goes back to the arena. Four days left. He isn’t furious, just hurt. She was supposed to say no. Only Annie knows that he just wanted her to say no so he could try to save himself. But he really needed her to say yes. Because they both hear the whispers, Finnick more so, the hushed sounds of change.
Annie is going to help. She is going to be a piece of the cogs that grind against the wall. So that other birds and fish can be free.
Still on hiatus. Just sorta needed to write this.